Toward A Unified Field Theory on Public Homophobia
Two prominent figures stepped in a bad pile of homophobia this week. Howard Kurtz lambasted Jason Collins for hiding an ex-engagement about which the basketball player actually wrote quite candidly; and noted horrible person Niall Ferguson advanced the, um, idea that Keynes’s homosexuality explained his economic theories.
Kurtz’s post wasn’t homophobic, but it partook in the minority response that sneered at the brouhaha of an athlete coming out; from calling it a distraction to pointing out that it was no storming of Normandy, the more homophobic sides of our discourse sought to belittle Collins’s confession so as to marginalize it, and Kurtz’s dismissive post was very much in this key. Ferguson’s strange little tirade more openly availed itself of anti-gay sentiment, but equally to marginalize the ideas of its subject.
What unites both events above and beyond their homophobia is their complete wrongness. It’s strange for something to be objectively, unequivocally wrong these days. We’re so used to two (at least) irreconcilable versions of reality that are less dialectic than repulsive to each other, that it’s kind of shocking to encounter a reality unified by a single judgment. Kurtz was wrong, blatantly, inarguably, wrong. Ferguson was wrong, blatantly, inarguably wrong*. There are no other sides to either story, which is why one man was fired and the second is in full, ass-saving retreat.
But more interesting, in both cases, the homophobia seems to be stepping in for some gap in the men’s logic. Contrast their statements with Chris Broussard’s. Broussard advanced a straight-up anti-gay syllogism: gays are walking in sin, sin no bueno, ergo gays bad. This is logic that concerns only homosexuality; any references to any other issue, like religion, are in service of the initial argument. It’s also a more traditional brand of homophobia, one steeped in ye olde heteronormative* values. As one commenter put it, the whole thing sounded very 1994.
But neither Kurtz’s nor Ferguson’s arguments directly concerned homosexuality. Kurtz seemed miffed over our culture’s aggrandizement of gay figures, almost as if they got a moral pass by participating in the identity du jour; his argument was more with liberalism than homosexuality. Furgeson, meanwhile, was railing against Keynesian economics. Neither could make his case based on evidence or reason, so reference to homosexuality was stitched over the bare spots like a patch. Whereas Broussard’s logic was wrong only in reference to its argument about homosexuality, Kurtz and Ferguson were doubly wrong, both in their original arguments and in their recourse to homophobia to make it. This suggests a sort of symbiosis between homophobia and illogic; the two are feeding off each other in a more complicated way than they did back when the majority of society thought gay marriage should be illegal.
This is important, not in the least as it concerns how we respond. Conservative commentators have rallied around Kurtz, claiming he’s been railroaded for picking on the left’s new sacred cow. This is nonsense; Kurtz’s error was indefensible, which is why you didn’t see a single reputable journalist or publication second-guessing his firing. Meanwhile, I’m sure the darker corners of the internet are already ginning up some narrative of Ferguson being bullied by the PC police, even as Ferguson himself has issued an unqualified and detailed apology. In both cases, the defense of the men has and will focus on the aspects of their logic that concerns homosexuality, and not their initial, flawed arguments. In short, even in the defense of the men, reference to homosexuality, this time in its supposed elevated moral status in liberal culture, will be used to mask their original illogic. Recognizing the connection between bad argumentation and use of homophobia is essential to combatting the attempts to make homophobes into victims.
Fortunately, the presence of homophobia in crack-brained ideas suggests its increasing marginalization. In the same way that once-common anti-semitic ideas now appear only in fringe theories (“The Jews are engineering gun control”), homophobia, at least as part of a public discourse, is inching its way out of the mainstream. The further it gets, the more it will be a recourse for illogical or incoherent ideas; the more it comes to be the vehicle for those ideas, the more reality will be unified in dismissing both the ideas and homophobia, as we saw twice this week. This is a good thing.
* See Blake’s post for details.