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Mar 22 2013

Prager’s Response to Portman’s Change of Position

Dennis Prager joins the chorus of wingnut voices responding to Sen. Rob Portman changing his position on marriage equality after finding out his son is gay. It’s all the standard rhetoric you’re used to hearing, but with a bunch of psychobabble at the beginning:

In order to explain why, let’s analyze some of Sen. Portman’s words:

“I’m announcing today a change of heart … ”

These words are well chosen. Portman’s position is indeed “a change of heart.” That’s why he didn’t say “change of mind.” His change comes from his heart.

In this regard, Portman speaks for virtually every progressive/left/liberal position on virtually every subject. To understand leftism – not that the senator has become a leftist, but he has taken the left-wing position on redefining marriage – one must understand that above all else leftism is rooted in emotion, not reason. That is why left-wing social positions always refer to compassion and fairness – for blacks, for illegal immigrants, for poorer people and, of course, for gays. Whether a progressive position will improve or harm society is not a progressive question. That is a conservative question. What matters to progressives is whether a position emanates from compassion.

Wow, seriously? He thinks liberalism is based on emotion but not conservatism? First of all, fairness is not an emotional question. Sure, we may have an emotional reaction to a lack of fairness (anger, most likely), but fairness is an ethical question that can be answered without reference to our emotions. Secondly, conservatives constantly appeal to emotion — mostly fear and disgust — in making their arguments.

In fact, there is good psychological literature on this that fear and disgust are the dominant inputs to conservative political positions, and nowhere is that more obvious than in their arguments against marriage equality. The appeals to disgust are clear in their constant dehumanizing of gay people as dirty, sinful, demon-possessed and so forth. The appeals to fear are clear in their constant declarations that allowing gay people to marry will hurt children, destroy families and even civilization itself — all without even a minimally coherent argument, much less evidence. Here’s Prager himself doing that in this very column:

Yes, societies have changed qualifications for marriage regarding age and number, but no society before the 21st century ever considered redefining the fundamental nature of marriage by changing the sexes. That is why it is not honest to argue that same-sex marriage is just another redefinition. It is the most radical change to the definition of marriage in the history of civilization.

He conveniently leaves out the change 45 years ago of allowing interracial marriage, which was also a clear part of the traditional definition of marriage going back centuries at the very least. And all this talk of redefinition is nonsense. Marriage is not being “redefined,” it’s merely being made open to gay couples. Doing that will not change the relationship of any straight couple even one iota. Absolutely nothing changes for them. So all this nonsense about changing the “fundamental nature of marriage” makes no sense at all if you can’t show that it changes the nature of any particular marriage.

18 comments

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  1. 1
    doublereed

    Actually I would agree that fairness is an entirely emotional position. Just listen to way the Libertarians/Conservatives argue for economic fairness. They demand things like flat taxes because it’s “fair,” not because of its effects. Or they don’t want to pay for public transportation if they don’t use it. It’s not “fair.” Or using the death penalty on murderers.

    Stuff like that. Whenever you hear anything about fairness, it’s almost guaranteed to be a fluffy emotional argument with little substance. When people have a substantive argument, they usually refer to equality and equal protection under the law.

  2. 2
    Gretchen

    First, discard anger and disgust as emotions.
    Then, argue that women liberals base their views on emotion, while men conservatives base theirs on reason.

  3. 3
    Didaktylos

    IMAX-grade projection …

  4. 4
    Who Knows?

    I would like to understand how helping the poor, eliminating discrimination based on race and sexual orientation harms society. Anyone?

  5. 5
    Dave Maier

    http://articles.cnn.com/1999-12-15/politics/religion.register_1_republican-candidates-third-candidate-john-mccain?_s=PM:ALLPOLITICS [I've cleaned up the punctuation and spacing -- not sure why it was so screwed up]

    “Texas Gov. George W. Bush, a Methodist who leads the Republican race in opinion polls and fundraising, gave the most personal testimony in Monday’s debate. Each candidate was asked what political philosopher or thinker he identified with most. In an interview Tuesday morning with Des Moines Register reporters and editors, Bush said he understood the question to be “Who’s had the most influence on your life?”

    Bush, the third candidate to answer in the debate, said “Christ, because he changed my heart.”

    Moderator John Bachman pressed for more, and Bush added “When you turn your heart and your life over to Christ, when you accept Christ as the savior, it changes your heart. It changes your life. And that’s what happened to me.”"

    Although to be honest I’m not a big fan of distinguishing so sharply between emotion and reason in the first place, this does show (if we needed any proof) that Prager is full of it.

  6. 6
    John Pieret

    … no society before the 21st century ever considered redefining the fundamental nature of marriage by changing the sexes.

    Yeah? So? Unless Prager thinks that the fundamental nature of social institutions have remained static over the history of humankind, there is always some point when they change. Slavery was all but universal until fairly recently. Would Prager have whined about redefining the fundamental nature of labor relationships when societies started outlawing slavery. Come to think of it, maybe he would have.

  7. 7
    gshelley

    They also seem remarkably unconcerned about the change in marriage when it was decided rape could occur in marriage, which is also against traditional marriage. It’s also kind of amusing to see him complain that the liberal view is based on emotion not rationality when his side have all but given up pretending to have a rational basis and his own argument makes no pretense at rationality, just relies on “but it’s always been like that”.

  8. 8
    Abby Normal

    After Bush won reelection I conducted an informal survey of my friends and coworkers, asking who they voted for and why. I noticed an interesting correlation between who they voted for and how they started their explanation of why. Almost without exception people who voted for Bush used some variation of, “I felt,” while Kerry supporters started with, “I thought.” I found that interesting.

  9. 9
    tommykey

    Ah, Dennis Prager, the same guy who wrote a column about how women are duty bound to provide their husbands with sex even if they’re not in the mood.

  10. 10
    abb3w

    @0, Ed Brayton

    In fact, there is good psychological literature on this that fear and disgust are the dominant inputs to conservative political positions

    …or at least, some of the dominant inputs to distinguish conservative positions from liberal ones. There’s also “ingroup identification” and “submissiveness-to/defense-of authority”.

  11. 11
    Modusoperandi

    …one must understand that above all else leftism is rooted in emotion, not reason.

    36 Master, which is the great commandment in the law?

    37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.

    38 This is the first and great commandment.

    39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

    40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. [Matt 22:36-40]

  12. 12
    cptdoom

    …but no society before the 21st century ever considered redefining the fundamental nature of marriage by changing the sexes.

    Except perhaps for societies in early Europe that, as described by John Boswell in his book Same-sex Unions in Premodern Europe.

    That is why it is not honest to argue that same-sex marriage is just another redefinition. It is the most radical change to the definition of marriage in the history of civilization.

    Really, I would have thought allowing women to own property in their own name was far more radical, but that’s just me.

  13. 13
    John Hinkle

    Whether a progressive position will improve or harm society is not a progressive question. That is a conservative question.

    Well sure. Progressive positions are emotion-driven, maybe even random. Progressives don’t care if education improves society. They don’t know if tackling global warming will reduce future suffering. They don’t care if comprehensive sex-ed and available contraception reduce abortions, lower health care costs, and can help young women break out of poverty. Those are unintended consequences. What really matters is giving some poor schmuck a warm hug and a government handout, or in this case, giving icky gays equal rights.

    Prager must have a daily hay bale delivery, seeing as he needs to construct a strawman before writing each column.

  14. 14
    d.c.wilson

    All you have to do is look at the arguments made against same-sex marriage:

    1. The bible says it’s an abomination.

    2. It’s against the traditional definition of marriage.

    3. It will harm society in some vaguely undefined way.

    Not one of these arguments is based on reason or evidence. They are entirely emotional. In fact, they are entirely based on fear. Fear of retribution, fear of change, and fear of the unknown. There’s not a rational argument against gay marriage to be found.

  15. 15
    vmanis1

    Prager’s argument is twofold: (1) I’m better than you, and (2) No society before now has done this.
    As to (1) others on here have already pointed out that conservatives are as motivated by emotion as liberals; it seems to be a basic aspect of humanity. It’s as though Prager has watched all of the original Star Trek without realizing that Spock is a confused and somewhat tragic figure at times.

    As to (2), no society before now has had flat-screen TV, Google, or good success with cancer cures. So what?

  16. 16
    dan4

    @7″…when it was decided rape could occur in marriage…”

    ????????

  17. 17
    John Pieret

    Dan4 @ 16

    It is hardly universal but …

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marital_rape

  18. 18
    kagekiri

    Marrying for love is probably newer and more drastic a change than people loving others of the same sex. Marriage has been a business transaction for a huge amount of known history.

    Secondly, conservatives constantly appeal to emotion — mostly fear and disgust — in making their arguments.

    Well, not just disgust. They also appeal to pride, martyrdom, and self-righteousness.

    “We’re just too honest to gay people to not tell them the truth about their sexual preferences. It’d be like letting them hurt themselves! We’re HELPING them! Love the sinner, hate the sin, but that doesn’t mean we have to legitimize their sin! THAT would be truly hateful!”

    That’s not just me making this up…I used to be against gay marriage for religious reasons, and that backwards crap above basically summarized my position. All that kept it in place was religious dogma and arguments about sins and souls, which….well, are anything but reasonable or logical.

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