A piece appeared recently in my local newspaper by one Anthony C. Infanti, professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. He wrote in support of a pending state antidiscrimination bill that would ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and “gender” identity.
There’s no urgency in attacking his position or his argument. Infanti’s piece is unremarkable in light of overall trends and attitudes toward sex, in general, and exotic sexual behavior, in particular. Wherever these trends lead, we are going to get there. In a borrowed phrase, fuming buys nothing.
Still, right-thinking people are not going to take Professor Infanti’s words at face value. He presents a wholly economic rationale for antidiscrimination law. Excluding people means excluding potential business and revenue. If we include everyone, we accrue the economic benefits.
Does that make sense, as far as it goes? Perhaps, if one is willing to make of two or three statistics a portrait of our entire economic situation, and the way out of it. Eventually, though, the very logic runs out, since judgments ultimately have to be made about inclusion and exclusion, and people have to be placed on different footings based on their identities and roles in society. If you simply say no one should be excluded from full membership in any area of life, you end up losing the ability to say what citizenship and life are about, except that they seem to be things we can reconfigure to suit our individual preferences and attitudes.
That’s pretty thin gruel conceptually, and it’s even worse as a practical way of dealing with things. If we accept such valorization of individual choice as a standard, we end up rejecting anything that appears to limit that choice in any way. That means turning our backs on what the sociologist Will Herberg called “the funded wisdom of the past”—those inherited customs, habits, and attitudes that inform our approach to the world.
Not all of our past attitudes are to be invoked as things worth restoring; such is impossible, anyway, since differing attitudes often contradict each other. But at some level we should be surprised to find that justice and basic decency now require us to replace our inherited public understandings with a single self-contained principle of equality that is to override all other considerations. That was not the Founding Fathers’ original intention, and it was never our peoples’ purpose.
Now, though, we are subject to the cult of mindless expertise, demanding with totalitarian aggression and metaphysical certitude that we greet the onrushing exotica of the age as natural, normal, uncontroversial, healthy, wonderful, and beautiful, and to hell with you if you hesitate to agree! Chaos and confusion are widespread and palpable, especially when it comes to sex, and another nondiscrimination law is not going to help us make better sense of ourselves and our situation.
That’s quite a bleak assessment, I admit, but I don’t mean to be a crank or a downer. Our leadership is aggressively unreflective and self-serving, and overall trends are bad and likely to get worse. But pessimism is not hopelessness. The message here is merely that the noise coming from our respectable media and academic authorities is on balance silly and decivilizing and not to be listened to. The role of the editorialist is to reassure: You who make sense of things in ways that jibe less with fashionable standards and more with the traditional prejudices (yes, there’s that word!) of Western civilization are not backward or bigoted. Instead, you may be part of the last trace of collective sanity our civilization has left.
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