Archive for April, 2012

buses, the mail,etc

Posted by on April 14th, 2012

At one point in Fight Club, the narrator says of Marla Singer something along the lines of “she’s like that cut in your mouth that would heal if you could only stop tonguing it – but you can’t.” Which brings us to the Daily Mail.

There’s a certain online philosophy that says you should ignore the Mail, that they’re being provocative to get hits, and so on. And there’s something to that. Nevertheless, it’s a national (indeed, an international) newspaper and website, and occasionally it merits comment deeper than “oh, just fuck off, you disgusting scum”, even if that comment also applies.

In this case it’s Alexander Boot, a piss-poor excuse for a journalist contributing this piss-poor excuse for an article. The title is: Homosexuality IS a departure from the norm: We must beware of our civilisation being battered by the PC brigade.

It basically boils down to “I’m not a homophobe, except I am”. Go read it, and then rejoin me here in 2012.

The background to all this is an advert on the side of buses, done by Stonewall, that reads: “Some people are gay. Get over it!” Which seems totally fair enough. But then, this week, a Christian group, who I genuinely can’t be fucking bothered looking up the name of, responded by putting forward a related bus advert that read “Not gay! Ex-gay, post-gay and proud. Get over it!” The latter ad got pulled by Boris Johnson – of all people – attracting the ire of various people, including Mr Boot.

We’ll come back to some of this. First, let’s have a look at Boot’s flaccid little column, no pun intended.

“Any reasonably educated person will be aware that homosexuality isn’t a disease. It is, however, an aberration.”

I’m a reasonably educated person – degree in Philosophy, etc. I’m aware of the first part, and also aware of the nefarious way such framed and apparently innocuous lead-in sentences are used. The second … ah yes. There we are. I’m not a homophobe, except I am.

“Now before I’m tarred and feathered as yet another manifestation of the prevailing tolerance, I hasten to add that I use the word ‘aberration’ strictly in its dictionary definition: ‘a departure from what is normal or desirable’.

Since only about one percent of us are that way inclined, homosexuality is obviously a departure from the norm. Surely, 99 percent are in a better position than one percent to judge what is normal?”

Fair enough, albeit with a twinge of sympathy for language itself. But … well, so far, by this definition, every job under the sun is an aberration. Abnormal. Surely?

“And, indulging in a bit of reductio ad absurdum, reversing that proportion would spell the end of the human race, which is clearly undesirable. So the dictionary definition applies in its entirety.”

Well, I’d love to see Boot spell out the reductio ad absurdum there. Here’s what a reductio ad absurdum actually is: using the apparently acceptable premises of a logically valid argument to lead to an obviously unacceptable conclusion, thereby forcing reconsideration of one or more of the premises. Here’s one – hey! – based on Boot’s premises:

  • 1) Fewer than 1% of the population work as Daily Mail journalists.
  • 2) If 99% of the population worked as Daily Mail journalists, society couldn’t function.
  • Therefore: Being a Daily Mail journalist is an aberration.

(If that conclusion feels true then feel free to substitute “Daily Mail journalist” for something less obviously objectionable, like anything else in the world at all).

Look: Boot’s blatantly a fucking fool, but it’s worth making a few other brief, related points here.

1) Let’s not pretend that Boris Johnson is any kind of hero here. This is a man who once wrote “If gay marriage was OK – and I was uncertain on the issue – then I saw no reason in principle why a union should not be consecrated between three men, as well as two men; or indeed three men and a dog.” Indeed, if anything, the mayor election should just make those of us who don’t live in London even more glad we don’t live there, albeit with the caveat that choosing between two awful, stupid bastards is basically a depressingly accurate small-scale metaphor for the state of democracy in the country as a whole.

2) Despite what Boot says, this is not an issue of freedom of speech. That term is thrown around too much. These stupid dickheads can stand on the street with their banners; nobody is locking them up for having and stating their views. But you don’t get to just plaster any old hateful shit on the side of a bus. You’re not guaranteed a spot on a privately-owned stage. You’re not owed an audience at the Oxford Union. Et-fucking-cetera.

3) The two adverts aren’t equal. Some of the arguments I’ve seen have come perilously close to invoking that awkward new-old mainstay: the Christian couple turning the gay couple away from their B&B. “Oh, but what about the rights of the Christian couple?” No, sorry, fuck them. Their rights aren’t being breached: they’re being treated the same as everyone else, because nobody else can turn away the gay couple either.

“But gay people can have their adverts – why can’t we have ours?!”

Here’s why. Because the original advert was just stating an innocuous  fact. Okay, it might not change anybody’s mind, but it’s a nice and harmless attempt at normalising something that anybody with the slightest amount of fucking human decency should accept as normal anyway. Whereas the other message is the opposite. It implies to someone struggling with their sexuality not that “it’s okay” but “you’re not okay”. It’s nasty and unpleasant. It’s mean. It’s potentially damaging and undermining to an individual (perhaps a person feeling isolated and vulnerable) rather than helpful and, in however small a way, empowering. It’s designed – basically – to make people feel bad.

And that’s sort of what it comes down to for me, with these people. They have the money to spend on an advert campaign on London buses. Great! So, if you’re that religious, and if you care about people so much, why not use that money and influence to help people that really need help – campaign against child poverty or domestic violence, or whatever – rather than deliberately targeting and hurting people who don’t?