Stephen Measure

On Intellectualism
June 25, 2014

I am not an intellectual. That might seem strange for me to say if you think of intellectuals simply as those who are intelligent, but that's now how I view intellectuals, not anymore. It seems to me that intellectualism claims that arguments can always be compared against each other, the better argument reliably determined through reason. It's as if intellectual conflicts are like gladiator fights in an arena, where the arguments face off against each other and the better argument inevitably comes out the winner.

But that's not how things actually work. The intellectual arenas are filled with artificial obstacles, and those obstacles get in the way of the arguments, at times giving an unnatural advantage to one argument over the other, at times removing any chance for an argument to even win at all. In the end, it's not the better argument that emerges triumphant, it's the argument more suited to the obstacles of the particular arena. I see intellectualism therefore as better at awarding trophies than at discerning truth. That's why I am not an intellectual. Reason will always win in a fair fight. Unfortunately, it's rarely ever a fair fight.

Consider the example of Atticus Finch in "To Kill a Mockingbird". Despite public opposition, Atticus, a lawyer, chose to defend Tom Robinson, a man falsely accused of rape. Atticus made his case effectively, leaving no doubt that Tom was innocent. Yet, Atticus failed anyway and Tom was found guilty of the crime. Why? The two arguments entered the arena, why did the weaker one emerge as the winner?

It was the arena. When those on the jury saw the defendant, they did not see a man, they saw a black man; and their racial prejudice created an impossible obstacle for Atticus to overcome. There was simply no argument that Atticus could make that would allow black innocence to prevail in the face of white accusation, not in the minds of those jurors, not in the arena within which Atticus was forced to make his case.

But imagine if someone had reached out to the jury before the trial and somehow convinced them of the rightness of racial equality. As impossible as it sounds, imagine if the jury had been previously persuaded that a man was simply a man, not a black man or a white man, but a man. Now imagine that Atticus had appeared before this changed jury and presented his argument in the exact same manner as before. Is there any doubt what the verdict would have been? Of course not. The problem was the arena. Atticus did not need a better argument. Atticus needed a better jury.

That is why I am not an intellectual. I survey the arenas in which arguments are weighed, and far too often I see situations where the better argument is given little chance to prevail.

Have you ever come across an argument of such stunning composition you can't imagine anyone disagreeing with it? From time to time I will read something where the logic is so clear, the craftsmanship so exquisite, it seems impossible to believe that anyone would dispute what has been said. Then I arrive at the comments section and it's as if I entered the Twilight Zone, as if an interdimensional rift has been opened, allowing people to post comments from a dimension where reason is turned upside down. And isn't it always like this? We have constructed individual arenas, each with different obstacles that favor one argument over another. Is it any surprise that our conclusions, all intellectually reasoned, at times are so radically different?

There is a new site on the Internet called Discussing Marriage, where arguments in favor of marriage and in opposition to same-sex marriage are presented in a calm, logical, and fair manner. Anyone who opposes same-sex marriage and wants reinforcement for their view should read the arguments on this site. Anyone who supports same-sex marriage yet wants to honestly understand the other view should read the arguments on this site. The arguments are persuasive, the logic is sound, and yet people still disagree with them. Why?

Once again, the problem is the arena. The court Atticus faced was flawed in that it split men into black men and white men rather than viewing them all simply as men. The court of public opinion today is flawed in a similar way, but rather than separating based on skin color, we separate based on sexual attraction—a flexible, malleable feeling that we pretend is permanent and predetermined. As I said in my post last week, it all comes down to identity. Are we men and women, or are we gay or straight? Identifying others based on attraction is why the cause of marriage and morality is failing. Identifying others based on attraction is why so many of us are being smeared as bigots. Identifying others based on attraction is why same-sex marriage is stampeding through court rooms across the nation. Without the obstacle this flawed sense of identity creates, the argument that same-sex marriage is a constitutional right would undoubtedly fail.

The legal arguments in favor of our marriage laws would have prevailed only a few short years ago. But now the juggernaut of judicial activism on behalf of same-sex marriage seems unstoppable. Why? Is it a failure of the arguments in favor of our existing laws? No. The problem is the arena and the obstacles within it, obstacles such as the false idea that our attractions define us. We don't need better arguments. We need better judges.

But what shall we do while we wait for better judges, who might never arrive? Shall we simply submit to social pressure and embrace what we are told is inevitable? No. What we need to do is to realize that the behavior of these activist judges, while condemning them as unfit for their role, can also give us hope for a resolution. The Constitution provides a solid foundation. What is right in one generation is right in the next, and if anything must change, then the Constitution itself must be changed. But this solid foundation has been rejected by activist judges, our nation set adrift like a feather in the wind. Ah, but must the wind always blow in the wrong direction?

The Constitution has not changed in the time between when our marriage laws would have been found constitutional and when they are now being found unconstitutional. The Constitution hasn't changed, but the people have. Yet, what happens if the people change again? Activist rulings such as those in favor of same-sex marriage are inherently fragile, held up by polls and social pressure, nothing more. Change the people, and then the law, even the law dictated by activist judges, will eventually follow.

Yes, this is easier said than done, but are we even trying? Do we talk about same-sex marriage or do we talk about gay marriage? Do we even understand the difference? (If not, read "The Unneeded Panic Room".) When we think of a man, do we recognize that his attractions don't define him? Can we see the thin line of resistance that can separate a man from his attractions if he lets it? (For help in seeing this, read "The River Is Always Waiting".) When talking about same-sex attraction, do we divide us into gay and straight based on our predominant attractions, or do we recognize that the only meaningful distinction is that between men and women? (If you disagree, your fight is with Mother Nature, not with me.)

Our society is groaning under the guilt of past racism. Not wanting to repeat the same mistakes, we flee from even the hint of bigotry. And so, any argument that can contort itself into a similarity to the civil rights movement is given an incredible advantage. We need to stop allowing weak arguments to claim advantages they do not deserve.

This post is directed toward those who oppose same-sex marriage. I want you to understand that when you identify others based on attraction, you are helping build an arena where your arguments are guaranteed to fail. Just like Atticus in the courtroom, you'll find yourself facing obstacles that are impossible to overcome. When you try to strike with your sword, the terrain itself will block you. When you try to defend with your shield, you will discover that obstructions have knocked it from your hand. This is the fruit of identifying people based on attraction. This is the arena you are forcing your arguments to fight within. Stop shooting yourself in the foot. Stop identifying people based on attraction.

Perhaps you think I'm only asking those who struggle against same-sex attraction to stop thinking of themselves as gay; but if so, you're not seeing the full picture. What I'm asking is for people to stop thinking of themselves as straight. Why do so many of us feel the need to cling to that identity? Can't we see the wall it creates between ourselves and those who struggle against same-sex attraction? Why do we need that wall? Does it make us more comfortable? Do we feel better about ourselves knowing that "they" are on the other side of the wall and "we"—unspotted even from the temptation to commit this sin, we repeatedly proclaim—are safely on our own side? We claim to love the sinner and yet we cast those who struggle to the other side of a wall which we ourselves created. Is that what love looks like?

What other sin do we treat this way? Do we build a wall for lying? Do we place those who are tempted to tell lies on one side and place ourselves on the other, claiming that not only do we not struggle with lying today but we will never even be tempted to lie in the future? Consider the harm that causes to those we place on the opposite side of the wall from us. When they notice the separation we have built between ourselves and them, will they even believe themselves capable of telling the truth?

Tear down the wall. Throw away the labels. We are men and women, not gay or straight. Attraction does not define us. Attraction is flexible and malleable, not permanent and predetermined. We are not our attractions.

Turn your back on the artificial obstacles and exit the man-made arena. Enter instead the world that nature created for us, a world where we are simply men and women, a world where attractions are only desires and desires don't define us, a world where arguments in favor of marriage and morality can receive a fair fight. Exit the man-made arena and see how much stronger your sword can strike; see what blows your shield can deflect.

Reason will always win in a fair fight. Let's give it one.

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