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Sunday, August 22, 2010

Things can only get better?

Illness prevented me from speaking in support of same-sex marriage at a rally last weekend, which was a shame, not least because I wrote rather a punchy, rabble-rousing bit of tub-thumping oratory. If I do say so myself.

I'm pretty sure I'll never get to use it again, though, since the arc of history is bending ever closer to wide-spread acceptance of marriage based on love and commitment rather than one of the partners having a "y"chromosome. Or is it an "x"? (Biology class was so long ago...)

Anyway, a glance at the graph below would seem to indicate that what was a minority issue a generation ago, is now accelerating toward being accepted as common sense. Some day soon these trend lines will intersect and diverge the other way.
What with global warming, economic instability, peak oil, and an Orwellian state of permanent war, perhaps people who previously would have dismissed same-sex marriage as radical and weird, have figured that there are bigger things to worry about, and if people want to commit to each other out of love, what the hell business is it of mine, already? Or the state's?

Some social and human rights issues do indeed seem to be getting better. Behaviours considered deviant a mere generation ago are becoming more widely accepted  as part of a more diverse "norm". Bisexuality, "blended" families, sustainable lifestyles, openly gay public figures, a female (or a black male) running the country.These and such other freedoms the sixties generation wanted all at once, instead took their own time to realize and got there eventually.

But you could think of a whole suite of other issues that haven't seemed to move since the sixties, and in fact may arguably have become worse. Xenophobic racism and jingoism, despite a shrinking planet and global flows of people, capital, and jobs. Corporate power despite the environmental havoc it wreaks. The surveillance society despite free  societies' much-vaunted love of freedom. And of course endless war on an amorphous threat that is everywhere and endless and intractable, despite its obvious futility and breath-taking costs in blood and treasure. Grinding poverty in the midst of vast affluence.

Why do SOME such issues seem to get better easily and naturally, and some, like original sin, never seem to go away?

Perhaps, from a traditional Marxist view, it's just that some social issues, like same-sex marriage, just aren't  a threat to global capital flows, so there's no need to spend time and money constructing them as deviant, and it's just a matter of peoples' sensibilities catching up to the reality of new behaviours and practices.

In fact, capitalism may actually LIKE gay culture because it offers new marketing possibilities in fashion, interior decoration, and other forms of consumer-driven practices. Why do you think "Queer Eye" got enthusiastic sponsors?

Others issues, like war, are simply too profitable ever to stop doing. The disassembly of human beings by ever-evolving technologies is the ideal capitalist scenario--there are always new human resources to act on through the endless issue of consumable bullets, bombs, etc. Which is why, I suppose, those large-scale weapons of destruction, like nuclear weapons, sonic cannons, and micro-wave blasters (which have been developed) have never, or seldom, been used. No cost benefit. No economy of SCALE.

Hmm. A purely Marxist/materialist view of the question seems to turn on the issue of powerful elites benefiting or not benefiting from social change.

This does not mean there's a cabal of evil billionaires colluding on these issues. When interests converge, you don't need a conspiracy. And one thing capital knows, is where its interests lie.

Still, even if same-sex marriage does play into the hands of capital, it's heartening to see more love and commitment in the world. Can there ever be too much of either of these? The market's invisible hand may shape the event, but its genesis is still in the human heart.

Below is a picture of my parents' wedding, in 1942, the start of a marriage which lasted 62 years

62 years in sickness and health. Now THAT'S commitment.


  1. Hopefully it will pan out politically soon after it pans out socially.

    Oh and you speech was excellent, it was a pity you fell ill (the guy who delivered it wasn't as good :P).

    I'm not certain about the other social issues. I suspect Jingoism and xenophobia is just more natural. Fear and hatred of out group members is just too easy to drum up in people. Brown/white people (depending on context) in a different land with a different culture is easier to demonise and our brains aren't very good at defending against it.

    I do agree though that anything that can be linked (however fallaciously) to your means of survival (food/income, security) will probably be easier to drum up bigotry and unreason. I just suspect it's a function of human psychology rather than the capitalist state.

    I still think Sweden has the right idea. Mixed markets are the way to go.

    Feeling better btw?


  2. I seem to have dodged a full-blown flu. Sorry I had to miss the day.

    The Frankfurt School thinkers had it that there is no real division between psychology and politics. The dominant ideologies of social elites colonise our thinking through normative influences of media and produce false consciousness. Read Habermas, Deleuze, Bourdieu, Foucault, and the ever-amusing Zizek if interested.