Who Is the Bigot?

Who is the bigot?

Mark Joseph Stern proposes an answer to that question in a recent Slate article, taking his cues from a new book by Stephen Eric Bronner, titled The Bigot: Why Prejudice Persists.

Stern makes it amazingly simple: “Anybody who opposes equal rights for gay people” is a bigot by definition. That much is easy. As we’ll see in a moment, though, it’s hard to understand what moral basis he builds that belief on.

I’ll come to that shortly, but first, for context, here is more of what Stern can tell us about “the bigot.” (The following are quotes or near-quotes.) The bigot:

  • Hates
  • Directs his anger against those who threaten (or might threaten) his privileges, his existential self-worth
  • Has beliefs he considers unquestionably right
  • Hears the Lord’s voice and condemns those who don’t, or who interpret it otherwise.
  • Holds antediluvian views
  • Hides (“scurries”) behind tradition and established habits
  • Is panicky
  • Is in a tailspin of anger and confusion
  • Is a pragmatist, shifting arguments and opinions based on what works at the moment
  • Suffers an all-consuming fear of modernity; terrified of modernity and its enthusiasts
  • Feels his power slipping away
  • Is desperate to cling to “liberty”
  • Asserts power over the oppressed
  • Clings to shreds of former dominance
  • Stanches the flow of progress by marginalizing others
  • Relies on inane talking points
  • Uses insidious tactics
  • Employs camouflage in translating his prejudices into reality
  • Considers “the idea that things can be different” his enemy

That’s quite a list. It’s quite a judgmental list. Maybe Bronner’s book justifies all these condemnations. Stern simply flings them forth.

Stern would have you believe that I, as a blogger and author who disagrees with gay marriage, am in a panic, an angry and confused tailspin; I’m terrified, hiding, desperate, and shifty. It’s funny, though: I don’t feel that way. You’d think that if I were in a panic, filled with desperate anger and terror, I would feel panicky, desperate, terrified, and angry. I never thought I’d be the last to know I felt that way.

But no, what his list really reveals is that Stern is given to stereotypes. He doesn’t know me, yet he considers me a fearful, manipulative power-monger. That’s stereotyping on his part. Of course he considers his beliefs unquestionably right, which makes his article the more sadly ironic. He is oblivious to the many items on his list that reflect directly upon himself.

At the same time, it’s interesting to note these four that clearly do not. The “bigot,” he says (with my own emphasis added),

  • Holds antediluvian views
  • Is terrified of modernity and its enthusiasts
  • Stanches the flow of progress by marginalizing others
  • Considers “the idea that things can be different” his enemy

The bigot, according to Stern, is deeply opposed to “modernity,” “progress,” and change. The point is reinforced by his stuffing the word “tradition” five times into nine consecutive sentences, not counting a quote he took from Bronner.

To sum it up,

But behind the bigot’s beliefs is an all-consuming fear of modernity. It was modernity, after all, that gave minorities the tools to combat their oppression—which, in turn, led to the increasing marginalization of prejudiced holdouts.

Somehow Stern has forgotten that it was the Southern Christian Leadership Conference under the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., that led the civil rights movement. At the same time, he invests modernity with an ethical value that rings so loudly in this piece, one could almost miss Stern’s other ethical value, his concern for the oppressed GLBT person.

Modernity is good. Tradition is bad. Who knew it was so simple?

But when did modernity begin, and what gave it such ethical primacy? What is the message here? Is he saying that later is better, and older is worse? That’s an argument that’s far too easily made today. It can’t be disproved! What I mean by that is that there is nothing later than today, nothing more modern to judge today, nothing to prove today wrong, as long as the standard is that newer is better.

The problem with that, of course, is that there were other todays before today’s today. Some of them were quite modern todays. The eugenics movement of the early 20th century was all about progress and modernity, and during the todays of that era, progress and modernity carried the same ethical force they carry for Stern today. Hitler’s Germany was about progress and modernity in its own “today.” So were the killing regimes of Stalin and Mao.

In that light it’s hard to join with Stern in condemning those whose moral choices are guided by something other than the latest latest. It’s equally hard to share in his reverent praise for progress, and his mocking of tradition just because it’s traditional.

Science progresses, and that’s good: we acquire more knowledge, more technology, more understanding, and more control. Stern seems to think that morality progresses as well, but toward what? If progress and modernity define morality, does Stern think that moral progress consists in the passage of time? Such a view brushes up against tautology. There’s nothing new in moral knowledge except that if it’s new it’s new, and if it’s new it’s good.

If that’s not what he thinks, then I’d like to know what he does think about it. For other than the judgmental labels he assigns so freely to “bigots,” I cannot find any other moral language in this piece. (He mentions “compassion,” but he undermines any point he might have made by it when he reminds us that everyone, which presumably includes “bigots,” is hard-wired for empathy.)

He stands against prejudice and animus and panic and inanity and unjustified self-confidence and so much more. Good. So do I. His definition of bigotry bounces off me: I don’t recognize myself in it. Undoubtedly he will see that as reflecting the depth of my depravity, but in that case a swiftly delivered tu quoque would be in order. His article is clearly filled with animus, hatred, condemnation, unquestioned self-righteousness, marginalizing the oppressed, and other insidious tactics—all in service of what? He stands against many things, many of which he (apparently unknowingly) practices himself. What does he stand for?

I’m one of his “bigots.” I stand for the families in which future generations of children will grow up, because I believe they need families to grow up in. I stand for sexual morality because I know how much more healthy relationships can be, when such intimacy is combined with covenant commitment and trust. I stand for sensible marriage law, knowing that the principles by which gay marriage is promoted are equally valid (meaning, equally nonsensical) in support of polygamy, incest, and other obviously wrong relationships.

Again, what does Stern stand for? As far as we can tell in this article, he stands for modernity. Modern is good. Today.


Hat tip to DR84 via email.