There’s this little thing out there called “conditioning,” and I’m not talking about a hair product. As Britannica.com explains, conditioning is “a behavioral process whereby a response becomes more frequent or more predictable in a given environment as a result of reinforcement, with reinforcement typically being a stimulus or reward for a desired response.”
In my experience, practically everyone has been conditioned in some way. It’s a virtually unavoidable aspect of reality. And I would not claim all conditioning is bad, or particularly cynical or misguided. However, a sizable chunk of it is. For example, bullies utilize conditioning all the time, and are ironically a product of it. I’m not necessarily referring to schoolyard bullies here, but cultural bullies who believe their values should be jammed down everyone else’s throat, and who may go to elaborate lengths to meet this goal.
Bullies have a goal of self-perfection. They feel they are either great or on the path to greatness, and they cannot stand anyone unique who complicates their self-image. Everyone must act like them, think like them, like like them, and not deviate from their desired norm. And so bullies sometimes make people who are “different” out to be villains, and little else. They will point to some misbehavior in an “abnormal” group as indicating, in so many words, that “they’re all like that.”
A good example is the frequent condemnation of homosexuality by social conservative Christians. They will obsess with these people. They’ll say they’re a threat to our children, that they’re trying to “convert” everyone into homosexuality (as if a gay dude can make me stop looking at boobs). They’ll even claim gays are dangerous because, if everyone followed their example, procreation would cease. There’s also a convoluted slippery slope style argument. FOX News’s Bill O’Reilly even stated that, if gay marriage is allowed, we might as well be allowed to marry turtles if we so desire. My standard response is, okay, if Bill O’Reilly wants to marry a turtle, he can go right on ahead. And how amazing would that be?! I could imagine a heartfelt special edition of his show where he gently cradles a turtle in his arms, gives it an Eskimo kiss, looks up to the camera and says, “It’s time I came out to America. I’ve been living a lie. This is Donatello and we are in love.” Ratings would go through the roof!
But practically everyone else is discussing marriage between consenting adult human beings (or, at the very least, marriage between human beings).
The other idea is that homosexuality fails because a child needs positive examples of both male and female parents. It almost sounds fair at first, but is ultimately a ridiculous statement. For one thing, there are countless examples of sloppy heterosexual parents. I’m not necessarily talking about violent or abusive parents, either, but parents who often do a bad job. Plenty do a bad job precisely because they are socially conservative, or otherwise try to fit their kids into a mold. Because, if those kids don’t fit, they’ll shun them, constantly criticize them, and undermine or ignore their interests and accomplishments. That’s bad parenting. Also, making kids afraid of gay people isn’t very good parenting, either.More plainly, there are adoptive gay parents in existence, and their kids typically seem to develop just fine, and make progress accordingly.
I should add: Even though I’m not gay, I know a fair amount of gay people. I have never — not even once — been physically harmed by a single one of them. Example: I have a gay relative, and he never touched me inappropriately. In fact, I don’t think we’ve ever physically touched in any way whatsoever. This sort of means something. Either I’m absolutely physically hideous, or gays aren’t particularly dangerous (or, I suppose both could be true).
To make things worse for gays (and others), the social conservatives will also ridicule gay pride. Not just gay pride parades (which can be annoying simply by being parades), but any type of pride. In doing so, the conservative are not only being lame, but also just missing the point. Shaming can be bad, which is exactly why pride movements occur in the first place. Feeling alone in the world and being berated can have consequences. Some closeted gays seriously consider suicide. The gay pride movement attempts to change that. Some degree of solidarity may help actually save lives, and help people accept who they really are. Not only is this humane, but it’s also about basic honesty. Christian conservatives want these people to lie about who they are, to themselves and to others. Yet this is called virtuous.
So why are so many Christian conservatives afraid of gays? I don’t know how many closet cases are also “gay-bashers,” but some of them surely are. People are capable of playing convoluted little games with who or what they are, and who or what others are. Unfortunately, they seem less capable of minding their own business. The irony, of course, is that America is supposed to be the land of the free. Many of these same conservatives say this themselves. But free to be what? Exactly like them? Well, the problem with that is obvious, because they themselves are only free within some very rigid constraints. Then again, I could paraphrase John Waters and speculate that closeted gay sex is probably hotter for these types of people. Why else be so militant about what others do mostly in private? Also, I have a hard time believing a man can be heterosexual and speak out against lesbianism. That just doesn’t make sense.
Anyway, what do we do about the Christian conservative bullies? Rules against bullying are hardly going to be enough, no matter how well meaning. If nothing else, I know that rules are not always obeyed. Instead, people will have to be prepared to take on bullies in some direct ways. The worse the bullying, the more prepared the oppressed minority will have to be defend his or her self. As I often suggest, humor is the best solution. In fact, a better cultural understanding paired with humor is one reason gays are more accepted in America nowadays. As more people come out, it becomes harder to demonize them. If you actually know somebody, you actually know somebody. In some cases the people you know may defy stereotypes. For example, not every gay person is a neat freak or speaks with a strong lisp. Some don’t listen exclusively to electronic dance music (similarly, not all black people enjoy rap or hip hop, and there are even black metal heads).
Rceently, I advocated humor against Social Justice Warrior-style feminists who take themselves too seriously and who ultimately demonize men while (seemingly) leaving women completely off the hook (and also pretend only women are victims of predatory violence and verbal abuse). I advocate humor against the social conservative-types as well. What amazes me is how similar both groups ultimately are — always playing the victim, thinking they’re going to save the world, and believing there is little to no grey area in their areas of supposed expertise. But is any group going to save the world? Will I? If I ever claimed such a thing, I’d view it as wrong, at least.
Now, for emphasis: People say and do rude and/or offensive things all the time. The idea that this will ever change is naive as hell. Conservative Christians will never stop gay people from existing, no matter how hard they try to impose their beliefs. Gay people simply exist. And it’s not enough to defend your position by saying “I was raised that way.” It doesn’t really make you such a better person, so you can dismount your high horse, whatever your belief system.
People are raised all kinds of ways. Do you really think your way is better because it was yours? Well, get in line, because so many competing beliefs feel pretty much the same. It’s pretty crowded up on the top. Also, do you believe an entity like God would really be on your side? If so, maybe God is not the right man for the job.
More generally: Even if we don’t know an answer to a question (such as issues involving sexuality, or whether grumpy men should be marrying turtles), it needn’t imply a supernatural explanation or solution. It could just be an insoluble problem without any proper explanation or defense. Some things pretty much are how they are, and there is no real point. Adding a cultural narrative may actually make things more mysterious than they truly are, and lead to division — or even trauma — by people who are too dumb to understand existence anyway. The rule of thumb is to basically leave people be, unless they create actual harm (and not just something you consider harmful, but an actual infliction of pain upon a person by someone else, without mutual consent).
I’ll just say this:
I prefer a sober analysis, and I invite all kinds of views. As Noam Chomsky said, “If we don’t believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all.” You can vilify Chomsky all you want, but that quote is gold. So question everyone, regardless of their supposed authority on a subject. Your parents weren’t always right, and neither are you.