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September 21, 2003

Tolerance and Disinterest

'I'd rather be strongly wrong than weakly right.'
--Tallulah Bankhead.

I suggested, a few days ago, that nobody who wants to be up on the latest turning over of Texas sodomy law should forget to drop by Andrew Sullivan. Sullivan, arguably sucks up the gay blog meme for those who don't know any better. I've got a couple gay bloggers with mutual links here, but ironically, I neither checked them nor bothered to purposefully when the decision was handed down.

Something I wrote smacked me around, but not until somebody else picked up on it. I wrote:

This is a strong test for me. For if I'm willing to stomach the paleocons in the Republican party, I'm going to have to stomach first generation college churchboys from the 'hood.

The problem is that I don't want to stomach all that.

Long ago, I recall meditating on the fact that I was a 'straight liberal'. I knew just enough about gay life to give it a stereotypical thumbs up, but not enough to be much more than lightly fluent in its argot. Believe me, I got the full and thorough lefty academic screen and test on my attitudes, not to mention in depth questions about whether or not my actual sexual preference was authentic. (Jeez the things 29 year olds talk about.) Some of this was more than a little bit annoying, but understandable in retrospect. My girl was under the spell of a particularly brilliant and sexy lesbian radical feminist.

These days, I prefer being proven wrong to being open minded. That's particularly because I'm doing curmudgeon work here at Cobb, and also because I'm fatly and flatly in the robust middle age of my life. It'll be proven in some medical journal some day, but I'll say it now. At middle age, there are chemicals in your brain that suppress excitement at novelty. In fact, you start cementing those neural pathways and start tweaking your nose a bit more. This makes evolutionary sense, and it is why old programmers and attorneys are such grumblefish. We know better, or at least we must believe that for the sake of our sanity.

Moreover, people want us old men to behave like old men. We are not, as they said in Lawrence of Arabia, to be daring and dashing. That crap is for those with something to prove. We older gents are satisfied to out connive each other without appearing to make much movement from our own staid positions. We paint the world in predictable colors and make large wagers about the predictability of those colors. Our fidelity to our own opinion makes for the tapestry of guesswork upon which youth depend to give their lives structure. What else is honor but fidelity to a code? It doesn't matter that the code is truth, it matters that we are fully invested. Remember nothingness? Yup. That's all there is. Tell Peggy Lee to stop moaning about it.

It is in this context that I must evaluate the failure of anti-racist politics and perhaps the failure of my own Old School movement. Not that they failed themselves, but that they will fail to propogate to the next generation intact.

The thing I'm going to comfort myself with is the notion that the reason young people can be so vapid, relatively speaking, is that our staid generation, our painting in black and white and our heavy investing has succeeded. Bustamante can be 'racist' only in the eyes of people too young to know what racism was. And I only have the nerve to tell whitefolks what they ought to be considering because my father succeeded in dealing with the crap he had to.

At some point, radicalization fails because tolerance has succeeded. Tolerance has succeeded because middle aged and old assholes have made it too damned difficult to budge on honor as it was painted. Tolerance is only a trial for the bigot; for the unbiased soul, the great difficulty is in caring enough to make a difference.

So that's where I am as a 'straight liberal' on homophobia and it's were I expect 'white liberals' are with racism. I don't have a problem in viewing the world and giving a prejudiced thumbs up to that whole gay thing I'm really not deeply interested in.

Which brings me to the question of myself (yet again dammit) as a black blogger and with Andrew Sullivan as a gay blogger. Do we get stentorian and remind people of the slings and arrows against the world they know so little about? Nah. We just spew out what's common sense to us and hope that others get it.

You see there is an inherent problem with liberalism and openmindedness. First, it fights a losing battle against middle age's neuronal cement. Secondly, the appropriated ideas of anti-racism and anti-homophobia cannot root themselves as deeply in people for whom there is no percieved self-interest. Andrew and I each have our respective thresholds over which offenders are going to catch a verbal beatdown. This is not a theoretical ethos. It's survival. It's about maintaining dignity and self-respect.

Disinterested people can get it, but they don't fight. Ultimately because they don't care enough. And for the first time in 20 years, I think Ayn Rand is absolutely right about something.

Posted by mbowen at September 21, 2003 09:51 PM

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