Monday, June 05, 2006

PEN Panel Excerpts + FMA in the Senate

"The Limits of Tolerance" Excerpts at Sign and Sight
RodriguezI'd glanced at this a few weeks ago, and even linked to it indirectly, but on Sign and Sight, a site featuring arts news from Germany, there's excerpts from the transcript of the April 28, 2006 PEN International Festival of Literature's discussion "The Limits of Tolerance: Multiculturalism Now," which philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah moderated, and which included Turkish-German sociologist Necla Kelek, French philosopher Pascal Bruckner and Mexican-American essayist Richard Rodriguez (at left, © Beowulf Sheehan/PEN American Center) On the site, there are links to longer bios of all the participants, an article on the event, and an audio version.

One of my favorite quotes, which should be discussed more frequently, especially given how powerful the concept has become:

Richard Rodriguez: "Richard Nixon invented Hispanics in 1972." Or one might say, Nixon's government pushed the concept of "Hispanic" for quantification purposes in 1972, and it has now transmogrified into something approximating a racial(ized) category, reified and performed, negating other identifications, racial, ethnic, national, religious, in its path. Whom did it benefit in 1972, or now?

On a related note, Alan Ryan reviews three books on the theme of cosmopolitanism in the June 22, 2006 of the New York Review of Books. His selections? Appiah's Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers (Norton, 2006), Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen's Identity and Violence: The Illusion of Destiny (Norton, 2006), and University of Chicago philosopher and classicist Martha Nussbaum's Frontiers of Justice: Disability, Nationality, Species Membership (Belknap/Harvard, 2006).

Ryan concludes one section of his essay with the following two paragraphs:

Both Sen and Appiah take two things for granted. The first is that identity matters—that people need roots in some cultural soil or other, even if they should not be so rooted that they cannot migrate physically, linguistically, socially, and culturally. The second is that we all possess multiple identities—that a man will not just be gay, but gay and Catholic and Croatian. What neither writer does is provide a wholly satisfactory account of the ways in which, and the conditions under which, one of those identities swallows up the rest. Sen points out over and over again that we may attach importance to all our identities without slighting one or other of them, although he acknowledges that some forms of affiliation or group identification are likely to be much stronger than others. But on the subject of why people so easily forget this and attack those who seem different, he says little more than that trouble breaks out when someone with an interest in fomenting violence persuades people—poor Hindu laborers in Gujarat, perhaps—that the only thing that matters is that they are Hindu, and that all their misfortunes are to be laid at the door of their Muslim enemies.

The puzzle remains: Why do we succumb so readily to appeals based on the irrational forms of identity—ethnic, racial, religious—rather than to appeals based on the rational forms— economic above all? Or, to put it in dramatic terms: Why do identity politics so often rest on hatreds that do as much damage to the aggressors as to their victims? Until we have a deeper understanding of the answers to that question, both Professor Sen and Professor Appiah are somewhat in the position of explaining what it would be like to behave better to an audience that often seems, unhappily, incapable of following their advice.

FMA in the US Senate
The Republicans in the US Senate have taken up their Fuehrer'sthe President's gauntlet, and will now be engaged in a cynical, symbolically violent and morally bankrupt debate to push the Federal Marriage Amendment. The GOP knows that the constitutional amendment would have to pass both houses of Congress, and is unlikely prospect in the Senate, and then be ratified by two-thirds of the states, unlikelier still; they also realize that on the longshot chance that it were passed and ratified, it would nullify all state laws guarantee marriage or civil unions between persons of the same sex, thereby writing unequal treatment for a specific class and group of people into the nation's charter. The politically floundering Bush suggested in his Saturday address that the amendment is essentially a moral response to a crisis, and that the amendment is necessary to protect the sanctity of marriage, though the idea that gay marriage poses any threat at all to heterosexual marriage is absurd. In addition, the Republican Congress already passed the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, which Democrat Bill Clinton cravenly signed, and a number of states have legislated anti-gay marriage provisions or amendments into their constitutions.

Nearly all of the 44 Senate Democrats are on record as opposing this amendment, no matter how they feel about "gay marriage," while only a handful of Republicans have come out against it. The debate and discussion is sure to bring out some of the real nutcases, with their pre-modern (though perhaps not medieval or even-pre-medieval), ultra-Puritanical views on sex and sexuality. I just wonder how deeply they'll get into discussing the real threats to heterosexual marriages, which include adultery, infidelity, duplicity, cruelty, physical and psychological abuse and related forms of violence, drug and alcohol addiction and abuse, abandonment, economic pressures and disincentives, emotional and psychological incompatibility, and so much else. Same-sexual marriages in one state or foreign countries or homosexuality or non-procreative sexual practices all combined have zero effect compared to what some of the most high profile, sanctimonious GOP hypocrites, like Newt Gingrich, Bob Barr, Dan Burton, and others have put their spouses through. The pope has the gall to claim that gay marriage is an "eclipse of God," which isn't surprising, but you have to wonder why he cannot seem to find the interest or focus to expend the same about of corrosive yet necessary verbiage on the extensive and ongoing priest sex abuse of children and teenagers.

As this is perverse charade is playing out in the Senate, New York State's highest judicial body, its Court of Appeals, is deciding the fate of gay marriage in the nation's third most populous state. New York's liberal (pseudo?) Republican mayor, Mike Bloomberg, has already said he supports gay unions. Were New York to legalize gay marriage, it would have a dramatic effect on the debate, as hundreds of couples in the nation's largest city and gay capital would be able to legalize their unions, thus creating a second and much larger partner for Massachusetts, which is currently the only state that permits fully legal same-sex marriages. (New Jersey, Connecticut and Vermont have more limited laws.) California's legislature passed such a law last year, but the supposedly pro-gay Republican Governator decided he would veto it anyway, claiming in contrast to the usual GOP ministrations about the "people" and their representatives making decisions that a California court should have the honor. I personally wonder what the national impact of a positive New York State decision would be, especially given that most recent polls show a diminishing opposition (now down to 51% in one) to same-sex marriage among voters.

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