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South Park and sympathy for the social conservatives

Posted by Al Barger on April 27, 2003 04:05 AM (See all posts by Al Barger)

I rather disagree with some of Rick Santorum's likely public policy conclusions, but I will defend him to a significant extent. Let's go back to some of the senator's recent remarks that Brian Flemming was quoting in response to an earlier post:

"If you say, there is no deviant as long as it's private, as long as it's consensual, then don't be surprised what you get. You're going to get a lot of things that you're sending signals that as long as you do it privately and consensually, we don't really care what you do. And that leads to a culture that is not one that is nurturing and necessarily healthy. I would make the argument in areas where you have that as an accepted lifestyle, don't be surprised that you get more of it."

This statement is absolutely reasonable. If you create a social climate in which all choices are treated equally, you would expect to find many more people than before choosing irresponsible, self-indulgent behavior. This also jibes with an observation of facts on the ground. Hey, being a whore getting a couple of abortions a year is just another equally valid life choice to being a responsible wife and mother. Expect to see more of it.

Being a promiscuous homosexual hanging out in bath houses is arguably NOT morally equivalent to being a faithful husband and father. Some choices are much better for the individual and for society.

I don't particularly fault someone simply for being gay. For starters, there is a world of difference between the gay gentleman of Sting's "Englishman in New York" and some jackass "Act Up" fag. As Chef said in "The Death Camp of Tolerance" speaking of South Park's "sick queer" teacher who had just shoved a gerbil up his teaching assistant's ass in front of the students, "There's a big difference between being gay and being Mr. Garrison."

I would also just as much, probably more, fault irresponsible heterosexual behavior. Some guys think that humping everything, and then leaving it for the moms and the social workers to sort out is the cool thing to do. They're jackasses. This does more social harm than anything perpetrated by homosexuals, but we're not going to be outlawing non-marital sex anytime soon.

Likewise, I recognize that a lot of private consensual choices to smoke crack rocks or drink lots of booze are bad choices.

Nonetheless, I think those are choices for the individuals to make for themselves. Rick Santorum has legitimate concerns, but I don't wish to grant him or any politician the right to decide which exactly of my private behaviors are socially destructive. None of their business. Even granting that he has good intentions, I do not trust his ability to distinguish between truly socially deleterious behaviors versus things that he just personally doesn't like. Nor do I wish to grant him the powers that would be needed to enforce these distinctions.

Still, he has a perfectly legitimate point of concern. It may not be the best thing for society to define deviancy down, equating all choices as equal. It concerns me, too.

I don't have a full answer for the perfectly reasonable concerns of social conservatives such as Mr. Santorum. There really isn't one. We're dealing with the fallibility of human nature.

My best response comes from South Park, and the aforementioned "Death Camp of Tolerance" episode (perhaps their best ever). They made a big point of distinguishing between "tolerance" vs "acceptance." In their typically practical analysis, they understand that tolerance means that we have to "put up with" lots of behavior that we find inappropriate. That does not mean that we have to accept all things equally, or pretend to believe in cheap egalitarian moral equivalence.

It may not be as simple as instituting a police state, but we just have to rely mostly on non-coercive social persuasion to gently point our brethren in the right direction. Trying to set a good example and positively talking your own family and friends into constructive choices have to be the main ways things are done in a free society.

Secondarily, the stick of ostracism is a fair fallback position in egregious cases. You may have a right to destroy yourself with booze, but I have the equal right to dissociate from you. Stay away from me with your nonsense. I'm not having any of it. At some point, you're going to be on your own. You can just go off in the gutter and die. They're only going to be improving the gene pool by getting out of it.

From a legal, political level, the most thing you can legitimately do to enforce reasonable life choices is simply not to publicly subsidize stupidity. You screw up, you clean it up yourself. You may have a right to smoke crack, but you don't have a right to demand that I pay for your detox, or pay your rent because you're too stoned to hold down a job. If you want help, then you'll have to convince individuals to voluntarily support you- which will probably mean making some voluntary commitment to doing things to help yourself.

Supposed "tolerance" can also turn into fear and fascism. In South Park, the boys end up in a nazi-fied programming camp for the crime of being disgusted by the sight of their teacher's deviant sexual practices. Likewise, there hangs a pall over many American workplaces at the risk of being judged to have created a "hostile work environment" for such crimes as passing around blonde jokes in emails. Not much actual tolerance going on here.

In short then, our best bet is to put up with each other as best we can. Your hate crime laws and your sodomy and drug laws have to go.

In a free society, some people are going to freely screw it up; some will flatly crash and burn. That's just part of the deal.


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