Token Dissonance

Black & gay, young & conservative. A Southern gentleman writes about life and politics after Yale


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Guest Post: How Will Life Go On After RFRA?

The following is guest post from my friend Lyman Stone. The views expressed are solely Lyman’s own, and do not reflect his employer, USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service. If you, dear reader, are interested in adding your own voice and perspective to Token Dissonance, get in touch with my by email, and we can chat.

“What makes this response particularly instructive is that such bills have been seen, in the past, as a way for religious conservatives to negotiate surrender — to accept same-sex marriage’s inevitability while carving out protections for dissent. But now, apparently, the official line is that you bigots don’t get to negotiate anymore.” –Ross Douthat

By Lyman Stone

But can the "straight" fountain donate blood to the Red Cross if it's been used in the last year?

The “gay” fountain loves show tunes and can’t donate water to the Red Cross.

As I know Rek’s usual readership keeps up with the news, I’ll skip the summary of events surrounding Indiana’s RFRA (and now potentially Arkansas’ as well) as well as any argument as to what the RFRA actually implies for life in Indiana. These may be interesting questions, but the reader is doubtless as well equipped to answer those questions as I. Rather, Rek asked me to write a guest post in response to a line of speculation I advanced: What happens next? So we’ve got some RFRAs with allegedly new, unique, and uncertain provisions that LGBT activists believe are intended to enable discriminatory treatment. There’s a boycott movement against Indiana with, apparently, some real teeth to it. Governor Pence of Indiana has promised to offer “clarification,” while Governor Hutchinson of Arkansas has suggested he wants the bill before him revised to look more like the Federal RFRA. On face value, it looks like LGBT activists may be able to chalk up a win. But there are some unresolved questions here.

Let’s say that the Indiana RFRA is clarified in such a way as to offer protections of LGBT individuals. Indiana does not currently afford such protections, thus such a change would be momentous. Would LGBT activists then go on to other “red” states, crusading for the passage of gay-friendly RFRAs?

The key argument against Indiana’s RFRA is not that it will actually create discrimination, or even legalize discrimination: it’s already legal in Indiana to discriminate against gay people. The argument is that Indiana’s RFRA shows bad intentions; that Hoosier legislators are haters, and haters should be punished by society on the whole. The argument isn’t about policy details, which is why all the explanations about past RFRA usage and compelling interests, etc, aren’t going to change any minds. If you press those most vocally for or against Indiana’s RFRA, it becomes clear that neither side even knows what effect the RFRA will have. Those shouting loudest on this issue tend to support or oppose RFRA primarily as a way of showing solidarity as allies and striking a blow for, respectively, religious liberty or gay rights.

I say striking a blow for a reason: the fight isn’t about what either side is for, but about what, and especially who, they are against. Or, at least, from the perspective of a liberty-minded social conservative like myself, that’s what it looks like.

It does not have to be this way. Either side could outflank the other handily enough. If RFRA advocates paired Indiana-style RFRA bills with non-discrimination provisions and beefed-up free speech and expression rules, they might not win the LGBT activist base, but they could neuter the most effective criticisms, address the areas that create the biggest concern for conservatives, and provide enough “wins” for supporters of civil liberties to credibly show that “No Gays Allowed” signs are neither the goal or consequence of religious freedom advocacy. On the other hand, if LGBT advocates get non-discrimination laws making LGBT-identifying individuals a protected class attached to a similarly robust RFRA (perhaps in a blue or purple state), they could capture much of the base of support for RFRAs among moderate social conservatives who, rightly or wrongly, worry about religious liberty issues.

If neither side tries such tactics (yes, LGBT advocates have tried to attach non-discrimination laws to RFRAs in red states, but mainly by using language that amounted to poison pills, because the goal was to kill RFRA—discrimination protections or not), then, paradoxically, both sides will probably prove their worst impressions of each other. If conservatives won’t introduce any kind of “clarification” or “fix” aimed at preventing a future of segregation by sexuality, the LGBT community will have ample cause to view conservative-backed RFRAs as Trojan horses, within which lies the promise of entrenched discrimination. On the other hand, if LGBT advocates persistently degrade and demean efforts to protect religious liberty—and respond to such proposals with concerted efforts to drive up unemployment with boycotts that broadly hurt even those with no connection to the laws in question—then conservatives will be entirely justified in calling for more, and more robust, RFRAs. Spitefulness begets spitefulness.

The RFRA in Arkansas did not move through the legislature despite the Indiana boycott, but because of it. LGBT advocates should not be shocked if other states respond to “boycott Indiana” by adopting new RFRAs as well. Watching Indiana be pilloried, punished, and shamed for providing what, to many conservatives, seem like pretty anodyne protections for religious liberty might dissuade other conservatives from taking up the cause, as LGBT advocates hope. Or, and I find this rather more likely, it may lead to religious folk having a deepened sense of isolation and a heightened concern for their own apparently-besieged liberty, and thus pressing harder for RFRAs.

I see this even in my own experience: when the Arizona RFRA was debated, I was extremely skeptical of the idea, and argued against many of my fellow conservatives who believed it was a necessary and good law. But watching the treatment of religiously motivated conservatives in Indiana has altered my frame of reference. The LGBT community seems far more vindictive and far less open to compromise on this issue than I would have expected. Innocent Hoosiers, whose state has languished through Rust Belt decline for decades, are going to suffer so that activists nationwide can make a statement about a law that nobody actually understands and will probably have very little effect anyway.

My goal here is not to try to convince others to adopt a given policy position. Rather, I hope to offer an insight, however speculative, into the worsening future that social conservative activists and gay activists are creating together with alarming speed.

So for me, a pretty deep-red and quite religious social conservative with far too many gay friends and loved ones to write off their experiences, the question is: will either side actually show an interest in governing a diverse society?

I hope so.


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Guest Post: In Defense of Tone Policing

The following is guest post from a friend who has opted to remain anonymous for professional reasons. If you’re interested in adding your own voice and perspective to Token Dissonance, get in touch with my by email, and we can chat.

“Even rich, privileged people need and can learn good manners.” –Noddy

By Billy Goat
People who who are wrong about things matter, too, I guess.

People who who are wrong about things matter, too, I guess.

Left-wing twitter has been in a tizzy recently after New York Magazine‘s Jonathan Chait published this piece, in which he contemplated the possibility that political correctness was doing real harm to liberalism. It was not the best writing I’ve seen on the subject, and I don’t think it’s a must-read; conservatives have been saying things like it for years. But it made a stir because Chait is a widely read liberal writer. Predictably, people like Vox’s Amanda Taub disagreed strongly. People like Gawker’s Alex Pareene disagreed much less politely.
If anything, the less polite critics probably proved Chait’s point. But a better-written critique of political correctness on the Left came a few days later, from Fredrik DeBoer, a left-wing blogger who is genuinely concerned that his movement drives too many people away. Two paragraphs stood out to me.

I have seen, with my own two eyes, a 20 year old black man, a track athlete who tried to fit organizing meetings around classes and his ridiculous practice schedule (for which he received a scholarship worth a quarter of tuition), be told not to return to those meetings because he said he thought there were such a thing as innate gender differences. He wasn’t a homophobe, or transphobic, or a misogynist. It turns out that 20 year olds from rural South Carolina aren’t born with an innate understanding of the intersectionality playbook. But those were the terms deployed against him, those and worse. So that was it; he was gone.

I have seen, with my own two eyes, a 33 year old Hispanic man, an Iraq war veteran who had served three tours and had become an outspoken critic of our presence there, be lectured about patriarchy by an affluent 22 year old white liberal arts college student, because he had said that other vets have to “man up” and speak out about the war. Because apparently we have to pretend that we don’t know how metaphorical language works or else we’re bad people. I watched his eyes glaze over as this woman with $300 shoes berated him. I saw that. Myself.

DeBoer concludes:

I want a left that can win, and there’s no way I can have that when the actually-existing left sheds potential allies at an impossible rate. But the prohibition against ever telling anyone to be friendlier and more forgiving is so powerful and calcified it’s a permanent feature of today’s progressivism. And I’m left as this sad old 33 year old teacher who no longer has the slightest fucking idea what to say to the many brilliant, passionate young people whose only crime is not already being perfect.

What this reminds me of is that ridiculous trope from old-time movie where the everyman protagonist is at an absurdly fancy dinner, and he doesn’t know which of the seven forks to use from the comically-wide place setting. That trope is silly, yes, but it tells us something about the exclusivity of cultures that have too many arbitrary-but-ironclad rules. In the cloistered communities of Wesleyan and Sarah Lawrence and Haverford and other $50,000-a-year private colleges, one of those cultures has been created. It is a a class marker. A patois, a special language that only people of their cultural milieu can speak. It’s no coincidence that DeBoer’s examples above are obviously not from upper-class backgrounds. They don’t speak the language.
Here’s the thing: I do speak that language. Fluently, even. Not because I think it’s an important priority generally, but just because I went to Yale and I pick up the stuff I hear around me. I’m even fond of some aspects of that language. At times, it’s a code of manners that promotes courtesy and empathy for certain kinds of people—like black Americans, or transgender individuals—who are frequently starved for empathy and courtesy. I’m a conservative; I love manners. But the radical left has made the code of etiquette so complex and so exclusive that one needs to take a critical theory course just to understand it. And the left reacts with vituperation towards anyone—no matter how well-meaning—who transgresses that code.
There’s an old story (almost certainly apocryphal) about Queen Victoria. She was hosting a colonial dignitary in London for one of the fancy dinners I described above. The dignitary had never seen a finger bowl before, and instead of washing his hands with it, he drank the contents of the bowl. Most of of the dinner attendees were aghast at the awkwardness of the situation. The Queen simply lifted her own bowl, and also drank its contents.
Yes, there are plenty of race and class undertones to this story to interest the Left, but that’s not what it’s about. It isn’t about how cisgendered white women should react to persons of color. This is a story about manners. And yes, manners are important. But in a proper, well-adjusted understanding of empathy and courtesy, we react kindly to honest, well-meaning transgressions of manners. DeBoer’s point is that the Left does not react that way – and that it should. It often lacks the principle of charity even among people who should be allies.
DeBoer is concerned by “the prohibition against ever telling anyone to be friendlier and more forgiving” because he wants “a left that can win.” To be honest, I don’t really want that, but I see where he’s coming from. But I think he fails to make an additional, broader appeal: friendliness and forgiveness aren’t tools to get what we want. They are what we want. Holding to the principle of charity isn’t a means to an end. It is an end in itself. Charity is literally a virtue. Now go read some Aquinas, and stop being mean to each other.

About the author:

By day, I’m a spokesperson for fiscal conservatism. Some issues I don’t cover in my writing; they’re not part of my job description. But I do spend a lot of time reading, and sometimes I feel compelled to comment on things outside of my area of professional work. This is one of those things.