Friday, November 30, 2007

You're Already Gay, Why Ruin it by Getting Married?

I love gayness. I also love marriage. However, to combine them would ruin both.

Let me back up off my initial statement a little bit. I nearly love gayness. Life is dull, so I am thankful for people that lisp and swish and whose mysterious and often ambiguous gender serves as fodder for a guessing game to pass the time at airports. Yes, I know many gay people project no telltale mannerisms. I know there are gay men that read, or pretend to read, the sports section. I know there are gay women who shave their armpits. I do not love these gay people. They make not the smallest effort to entertain me, and I, in return, find them as tiresome as normal people.

I used to love gay people more than I do now. The turning point came on a night when, to demonstrate my liberality, I attended a "gay" party. I chuckled when informed that I possessed a bubble butt. I laughed when someone asked if they could use my behind for a table. But when instructed to "get [my] ass in that cake, bitch!", I demurred. Thus did my love affair with gayness revert to more prosaic dimensions. For I knew that one drunk and rude homosexual spoke for all gay people everywhere.

I am married, therefore, like all married people, I love marriage. This is true. Ask any married person and they will confirm this, for they know there is no upside to saying otherwise. If they hesitate, there is a good chance that they will not be married for much longer.

Frankly, I'm not sure why the gay people are so eager to get their hands on the institution of marriage. They seem to have a pretty sweet set up without it--the men in particular. Possessed of all the most desirable of female qualities such as a strong fashion sense, an acute emotional intelligence and a highly developed appreciation for musical theater, they retain only one purely male trait: the desire to have sex at every waking moment. And since both partners have insatiable sexual appetites, fully 100% of the disagreements that would originate with the male in a heterosexual relationship never materialize. Bonus: sex with men outside the relationship is encouraged!

This is true of all gay male relationships.

I find it a bit harder to make a similar case that the typical lesbian relationship attains some ideal. Lesbians--and I mean ALL lesbians--display a set of male traits that I know from personal experience to be overrated. What's so great about being mechanically inclined if people are constantly roping you into fixing things? And while being emotionally inaccessible seems to have advantages--such as providing ample security for my fragile ego without lessening the warmth that my wife and children feel for me--it's hard to be sure when they speak to me so seldom. Beyond such male characteristics, lesbianism seems to be denoted by an over-emphasis on cuddling, ambivalence toward housekeeping, and an above average predilection for cats... I think. But I admit, I don't really know because I am confused by lesbians. They show so little enthusiasm for making themselves attractive to me.

But quibbling aside, it is clear that the gay couples are happy together. Why would they want to throw it all away by getting married? Don't they know not to mess with a winning streak? But if you are determined to leap from the cliff of swingledom against all better judgment, I will arm you with a few frayed scraps of wisdom, though they will provide only cold comfort as you plummet to your doom.

First off, what kind of marriage are you looking for? God marriage, or just the kind that begins with tax breaks and ends with alimony? If the former, I'm afraid I must disappoint. Because God--and by that I mean the REAL God, the one who busily smites and burns people, who drowns them or turns them to salt, and who won't love you if your foreskin is intact--that God, I'm sorry to say, finds what you do disgusting. He will give you nothing and you will like it.

His disdain is reflected in the policies of real churches, where the congregants have a sound and well-ingrained fear of being smitten, burned, drowned, solidified or in other manners fatally reproved. In such venues you can hardly expect to be welcomed, for the humble in the pews know that the Lord's avenging fire does not spare those in close proximity to its intended target. Thus the only denominations that will provide the service you seek are a small handful that have departed from His true path, though they still maintain the trappings of piety. Of these, only the United Church of Christ has proven willing to commit metaphysical suicide by offering you the genuine sacrament. There are other denominations ostensibly friendly to your absurd demands--notably the Unitarians, who, like you, will do anything, and every episcopalian parish between Vermont and Maryland. These churches are so overrun by queers that the Eucharist procession is indistinguishable from a Castro Pride Day parade. Yet they will only offer you what they cagily term a "covenanted relationship," which is like the faux-personal response you get when you write a fawning letter to Brad Pitt, only the fake signature is God's and are you happy now? then put your money on the plate.

For the devout sheep that graze in the rest of our nation's houses of worship, it pains me to say that you ask too much if you wish them to extend their Christian mercies so far as to willingly accompany you as you swish towards certain damnation. You cannot hope they will share in your joy as you solemnly exchange matching cock rings. And you certainly cannot expect that they will join you, figuratively and literally, in the orgiastic carnal celebration that will follow. If daily news reports are to be believed, these are all privileges reserved for their ministers and prelates alone.

And really, aren't you being unfair? After all, churches are merely Sunday breakfast clubs for the superstitious, each constructed around its own peculiar fetishes. Examples of utterly random notions as the basis for eternal salvation abound. Some believe that any ancestors you don't know about are in hell, until you find out about them, at which time they get paroled. Others believe that prayer is the only acceptable treatment for gangrene. And of course others--well, pretty much all of them--believe that boy-on-boy or girl-on-girl action is a deal breaker. They can't change their minds without ceasing to be the holy and ludicrous thing they are. And if you have given up work and sleep and dedicated your life to changing your church's creed so that you can walk down the aisle, I must break this unpleasant news: you're even more screwed up then they are.

Which brings me to the question of civil unions. Many homosexuals have come to terms with the fact that God will never love them, and that they will soon be subjected to infinite suffering for eternity. In reaction, they are looking to get a piece of the pie so big and delicious in this lifetime that it will make up for what is to come after.

So, should gay couples have access to the same civil rights and privileges as heterosexual couples? Should they get the same tax breaks? The same rights of inheritance? The same rights of hospital attendance in the event that one partner is gravely ill? Thankfully, unlike the thorny issue of matrimony in God's sight, the answer to this question is plain.

Absolutely not.

Look, you, my gay friend, have made the decision--yes, the decision--to be different. You certainly have never hesitated to accept all the perks that came in tow. The special recognition in high school. The free time that you enjoy while the rest of us attend to the parents and siblings that do not refuse to speak to us. The exalted sense you get from being in such an exclusive club. That you would now insist on also reaping the benefits reserved as recompense for those of us that labor under the dull yoke of normalcy seems to me distastefully opportunistic. There is a limited amount of money available to be distributed as tax breaks. More for you means less for me, and I'm not prepared to make that sacrifice. At least not unless you are willing to share some of the color and excitement of your lifestyle with me.

Did I mention I have a bubble butt?

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Our Cowardice-Based Foreign Policy

That hissing sound you hear is the air leaking out of America's hegemonic balloon. Someday you will tell your great grandchildren what it was like to be a citizen of the most powerful country on earth. They will not believe you. They also may not understand you, since they will have been raised to speak only Mandarin.

That our present level of dominance is unsustainable we can say with Newtonian certainty. Much as water will find its own level, so will the balance of power between nations swing back to a mean after a period of uneven distribution. Of the factors that have made us the most powerful country on earth, the only one that was uniquely American was the political and economic system that generated wealth like kudzu, and that secret recipe has now become a staple of kitchens in China, Indonesia, and even the once-calcified culinary institutions of Europe. Soon all the world will be asphyxiating beneath the matted vines of a luxury once reserved for us alone.

The party, in other words, is over. If we have not noticed the caterer putting the chairs on the tables, it is because we are too drunk to rise up off the couch. The only open question now is whether we will accede gracefully and play the role of partner in the order of nations, or will we act the megalomaniacal Caesar until the bitter end and lash out indiscriminately at all who come within range of our mindless rage, raving like an addict in withdrawal, grain alcohol in one hand, matches in the other, as we make the planet our funeral pyre.

Hmmm, I wonder...

I'll confess: it's a rhetorical question. The early results are in and the answer is evident in the way our military outlays continue to expand relative to the rest of the world, even though we already spend more than the next 15 most martial-minded nations combined. It is evident in the proliferation of American service uniforms in all four corners of the globe even as American diplomats become an endangered species. And it is evident in our look of disgust as we brush away the filthy hands of nations clutching at our sleeves, hoping for a moment's audience to say, please, sorry to disturb you, but you're kneeling on my throat.

It wasn't always this way. If we have become the world's bully, it is not because we haven't had positive experiences with soft power. In the years after WWII, we took the rest of the world on a joyride of economic and cultural globalization that brought great riches and a significant degree of freedom to swathes of the planet previously unaccustomed to such pleasures. We were then, as now, armed to the teeth and forever demonstrating our good will by shooting people. But our adventures in Vietnam and Korea, the ass-kickings we administered via US-supplied proxies in Latin America and the middle east, and most significantly, the cold war's one-hydrogen-bomb-for-every-household plan were less responsible for our present hegemonic precedence than our far-more-benign role as the world's preeminent loan shark and pusher of drugs like Baywatch, Hotpockets, cigarettes, and warehouse-sized bathrooms. In fact the only drugs we kept just for ourselves were the actual drugs. We also retained dibs on all the Chips Ahoy! cookies, which, because of the drugs, we will definitely want later tonight.

But now, presented with the opportunity to boldly lead or brashly dominate, we've put on our brass knuckles. This approach achieves a trifecta: it is simultaneously futile, shameful and stupid. But it is not surprising, for all Americans are attuned to a whispering voice that only we can hear, a voice that ever contests the better angels of our nature, calling us something worse than murderer, worse than liar, worse than cheater...

Calling us pussy.

How is it that this notion, that we are "soft," is an arrow privileged to bypass all our critical faculties and strike a fatal blow to our self image, even while we can blithely equivocate when charged with seemingly far worse trespasses? The answer is found in a handful of formative historical and cultural factors that make multilateralism and cooperation an unnatural act for us. These demons have been dozing uneasily in our national psyche for decades now, but circumstances are conspiring to fully rouse them. They have not had their coffee yet, and they are in a foul mood.

The first of these demons is the myth that there are only two approaches to conflict resolution: Thunder Dome deathmatch or appeasement, as embodied by the rather drab figure of Neville Chamberlain. Chamberlain, as you probably know, was singlehandedly responsible for giving the word appeasement a pejorative connotation when he let Hitler know that Britain would look the other way if Germany elected to get jiggy with Czechoslovakia. Five years and millions and millions of dead people later, it looked like the wrong call. Fair enough. Chamberlain's misjudgement certainly deserves to be ranked as one of history's more piquant learning moments. But the second world war was the birth agony from which sprung our modern international order, and like any creation story, it exerts an outsize influence on our perspective of contemporary events. So it is that ever after we have been inclined to see diplomacy of any kind as a thinly disguised desire to french kiss Adolf Hitler.

Mirror image to the myth of appeasement--and likewise uncritically granted a significance unsupported by the facts--is the myth that Ronald Reagan toppled the Soviet Union with only the withering power of his steely gaze and several hundred billion dollars of America's lunch money spent on stealth bombers. It is only one of several miracles attributed to the gipper which led to his recent canonization. The others were turning America's frown upside down (1981-1983), and when he addressed the Liberian ambassador by name without prompting in 1987, despite suffering from a well-advanced case of Alzheimer's. But the Soviet Union had been leaking at the seams for 50 years by the time Reagan arrived on the scene, assisted towards an early grave by the prudent pressures of every administration after Roosevelt. Pinching a comatose invalid's respirator tube is something less than slaying a raging dragon.

We are further discouraged from cooperative action by a deep seated belief in the goodness of competition in all matters. If we were to assist other peoples and nations who have so plainly failed to develop sewage systems and useless trinket based economies on their own, what critical lessons about not living in your own filth and coveting expensive, pointless toys would thereby go unlearned? And there is an ironic analog to facets of Darwinian theory involved here as well. For though the more pious among us would not be descended from apes, they are nonetheless at ease with the idea of survival of the fittest, mapping neatly as it does onto the unassailable tenets of free enterprise and the market economy. Strong animals devour the weak, they note, it is nature's plan. Which may be true. But as America transforms from a shining beacon into a bristling fortress, they might pause to consider how seldom successful animals devour those of their own species. Genetically distinct for no more than 100,000 years, humanity is still in a pre-release trial phase, by nature's standards. It's not to late for her to cancel the project altogether.

So let us review. Appeasement is bad. Cooperation with those you should be competing with is appeasement. And who should you be competing with?

Everyone, of course.

In better times, these self-serving urges coexist with the more compassionate and good-hearted aspirations of our citizenry and, by electoral extension, our government. But these are not better times, for now we are in great fear. We are afraid of terrorists. We are afraid of global warming. We are afraid we'll get sick with no health insurance. We are afraid of immigrants. We are afraid of our credit card debt. We are afraid of gas prices. And while we don't much care if the rest of the world hates us, we are deathly afraid that they will laugh at us. France most of all.

Yet our crisis presents a tremendous opportunity. There is ample historical evidence that great leaders can harness the energy latent in our anxiety and channel it in positive directions, revolutionizing our sense of ourselves and our role in the world. Unfortunately, none of that evidence is to be found in the last eight years, and none of those leaders are named Bush. So we strut brashly back and forth on the world stage, our shirt open to the navel, spewing profanity and reeking of booze as we inquire who at the bar--if any have not yet eaten--would like a knuckle sandwich? But let us pick two examples at random from the tome of reasons that we are idiots, and consider them in order of ascending degree of irony.

First, every step we are taking to insure our continued dominance is serving only to hasten our downfall. The economics of our strategy are disastrous. Soldiers cost a lot more than diplomats, and having them running around the middle east shooting people is making the locals nervous. That, in turn, drives up the price of oil, which drains what little cash we have and sends it right to those nice men with the framed picture of Osama Bin Laden on their wall. And when the President implores us to continue spending this Christmas, next Christmas, and every day in between, that only increases our consumer debt, already at Alice-in-Wonderland levels. All our guns aren't going to be much use when we can't afford any bullets.

Another facet of our "strength" is manifested in a disdain for multilateralism. Far from widening the power gap between us and other nations, our go-it-alone mentality is only accelerating the creation of new international combinations that don't look to the U.S. as a center of gravity, if they even include as at all. The economy of the EU may soon rival ours in size. Much of the world is pursuing climate action without American participation. If we thought to discipline the world by threatening to uninvite them to our party, we're finding instead that we've simply given them the push they needed to learn how to throw a party of their own. And in their minds, the best thing about their party is that a certain colossal asshole will not be in attendance.

There is a positive feedback loop that occurs here (note--"positive" in this instance is not the same as "good"). As each ill-conceived attempt to control the world blows up in our face, our anxiety level ramps up, eliciting ever more irrational and heavy handed reactions on our part. In short, it is suicidal, and in the end we will press our face into a pile of cocaine, shout "Say hello to my little friend!" and be cut in two by a shotgun blast from behind. Be sure to bring popcorn.

But the greatest irony about our policy of strength is that it is, like most indications of bravado, actually cowardice. We are what we most fear and despise--utter pussies. Confronted with the prospect of change, we cannot summon the courage to manage the process so as to mitigate the downside and conduct ourselves with the humanity and honor which are the only things of value in this life. Small wonder. The last generation to experience national hardship in this country is at this moment waiting for a nurse's aid to roll them over and change their diapers. The rest of us equate our second cars and second homes with vital organs of our body; we could no more do without our wine chiller than our pancreas.

But rather than trying to horde our power, or beat other nations over the head with it, what if we actually invested it? What if we supported genuine freedom and democracy in Pakistan? In the short run we would lose some leverage against Islamic extremism there, and yes, some unreliable characters would get their fingers on the nuclear button. But Musharraf has delivered little of value to us, and arguably our support for him only enhances the Taliban's power base in that country. In the long run, a significant change of course in our policy there would take the wind out of the fundamentalists' sails.

And what if we engaged with Iran and at least kept them talking until their geriatric leadership croaks? The young people that make up a huge proportion of their population have western predilections, and will soon take over the country and be a friend to us. Unless we do something stupid. Like what we're thinking of doing now.

What if we looked for a multilateral solution in Iraq? What if we made a genuine effort to address the question of Israel and the Palestinians? What if we actually packed up our forces in the middle east and left? These thoughts are Dick Cheney's nightmares--which is reason enough to give them serious consideration--but such tactics would have universally positive effects. The threat of terrorism would wane considerably. We would save enough money to give health care to every American and still be able to take the whole country out for ice cream.

Change is coming, whatever we do. Why not display a little less strength. And a lot more courage.