Notes from New Sodom

... rantings, ravings and ramblings of strange fiction writer, THE.... Sodomite Hal Duncan!!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Outer Alliance Pride Day

I don't really have much to say myself about the Outer Alliance Pride Day over and above the mission statement, which I'll happily add my voice to here:

As a member of the Outer Alliance, I advocate for queer speculative fiction and those who create, publish and support it, whatever their sexual orientation and gender identity. I make sure this is reflected in my actions and my work.

I really did mean to get a snippet of some queer speculative fiction written for posting in celebration. Unfortunately I just didn't have time, so instead I thought what I could maybe do was call in some emergency moral support. To that end, leveraging my position as scribe for the Elders of Sodom, I nicked some of their fancy letterheaded paper and sent out a quick missive to the Sacred Order of Libertines -- not to be confused with the Secret Order of Libertines, who I have no connection with at all, I should stress. (The latter being, apparently, a proper secret society of some description that actually exists... and therefore not nearly whimsical enough for my taste.) Anyways, it turned into something of an ongoing correspondence, so I thought I'd provide for you, in lieu of my lies, some highlights from their replies.

So here you go:


Dear Elders of Sodom,

Many thanks for the link you sent us to this John C. Wrong chap's Apologia. We'd love to comment, but I'm afraid to say that none of us here at the Sacred Order of Libertines had the stamina to read all the way through his maundering moralism. Not even the Marquis, and he's nothing if not exhaustive in his studies of excess! But if it's a statement you desire, then a statement you shall have, our most blessed Brothers in Buggery. On what little of his blah blah we can summon up the energy to address, that which actually concerns us.

So, you do realise he's not remotely speaking for us, yes? We wouldn't dream of stating baldly that "none except the two (or more) persons engaged in the sexual acts have any interest or right to dictate terms," that "no one can forbid or qualify what the lovers seek." How dry! How dreary! No, if we were to profess an official position on morality, we'd say something more like: Your anal axioms have no hold on us when it comes to the pleasures of the flesh, Mr Wrong. The Blessed Brother Bill Burroughs said it best, we think:

I am not innarested in your condition.

No. Mr Wrong and his ilk can dictate terms all they want; we simply consider them irrelevant. Forbid us to seek the sublime in the sensual; and still we'll seek. Where some strapping young sailor is game for a little of the old matelotage -- a dash of rum, sodomy and the lash -- we're not going to refrain simply because happenstance finds us in a nation or era with rules against such things. Fie on those rules! Laws and morals are all very well, but as we all know they're not always just. Slavery? Segregation? Some laws are just begging to be broken. Some liberties shout out to be seized. We can't afford to wait for the Prigs to lose their majority in the Parliament of Probity; we have the most raging hard-on that demands to be dealt with! And as for morality? The Cretin's Code! This is ethics by the book! And by "book" we mean a paint-by-numbers colouring book in black and white -- white for Good Things, and black for Bad Things, and God forbid you don't stay inside the lines at all times. Why you Elders of Sodom even waste your breath on such bumptious bluster, we really don't know! Don't you have anything better to do with your time? Don't you have some peachy posteriors to plow?

With love,

The Sacred Order of Libertines


Dear Elders of Sodom,

Yes, yes, we did manage to read his prattle of how "the consensus of society must by informal custom enforce certain norms." But as we all know, Sodomites and Libertines alike, that "must" is merely an artifice of the consensus of society. A pipe-dream of prescriptivists. The reality? That society enforces its norms is not a necessity, simply a tiresome actuality. This is not what "must" happen but what "will," the majority quite content to toddle along, conforming to those customary norms, living their lives -- living their lies -- by that banal rulebook of Do and Do Not which Mr Wrong sees as a societal conscience, "an unspoken and semi-voluntary mass agreement." And, of course, it all hangs on the informal custom at the heart of it all, in which those moral imperatives are taken as absolute. Why? Because they "must" be! It's the one rule that binds them all: that we simply must have rules. Or else, the Legalitarians cry out in panic, society will COLLAPSE INTO CHAOS!

Let the Halls of Pentheus fall, we Libertines say. Let Dionysus dance in the ruins! Tear down the rules and the Legalitarians might actually be forced to exercise their ethical faculties in day-to-day life, you know, to actually think about the outcomes of their actions, each and every one of them. Rather than trudge their way through a maze of taboos and transgressions, all so tired and trite, so crude and conventional, so lacking in the salty spunk of creation. Enough with this labyrinth of laws clung to by the Legalitarians, the corridors of convention that lead us ony back to where we started. Let it crumble. Wouldn't that be a wonder, if the Legalitarians actually had to exercise real reason in every situation, weighing up their impact on the world instead of simply blundering bullishly through it, going round and round in circles, following whichever rule suited their self-interest at the time?

Not that this is likely to happen anytime soon. Not that we're all that bothered about it not happening, to be honest. If we sound somewhat laissez-faire about it all, well, do remember that we're Libertines. Ethical enlightenment is your department, our dearest coital compatriots, and in truth you Elders of Sodom are rather more effective at it than us. We very much appreciate this, knowing that you've got our backs. We see you working away behind the scenes, using a little slap and tickle to push and prod the Legalitarians along in line with the times. We see how you free-thinking fornicationists work as surgeons of society's soul, taking scalpels to the sermons, splicing them into wild new principles and axioms, excising the obsolete and grafting in your golden "rules" -- imperatives so abstract they simply must be interpreted anew for every context. Let the Halls of Pentheus fall, and we know that the secret city of the soul, the eternal Sodom of empathic ethics, will rise in its place. Why, it's rising even now! Like the morning glory of a meat minaret from which the muezzin sings out the call to... well, a more fleshly form of reverence than prayer.

But, yes. In all honesty, we find your subversion and sedition rather delicious. We adore the way you've simply striven to shift the whole consensus, slowly, rule by rule, so that even the conventional conformists who would have, in the past, decried the "immorality" of this or that act on principle now, on principle, decry the persecuting prejudices of that small minority of cretins who cling to yesterday's rulebook of piety. Yes, Sodom is rising around us even as we speak, and we Libertines leave it in your more than capable hands to bring your Grand Project to fruition.

We simply don't see the need to concern ourselves with the Mr Wrongs of the world.

With love,

The Sacred Order of Libertines


Dear Elders of Sodom,

Well now, that's a tricky question. If we Libertines are amoral that hardly means that we're entirely unethical -- barring a few extremists like the Marquis, of course, whose strange sort of... experimental anti-moralism makes many of us somewhat squeamish. But the Sacred Order of Libertines doesn't really have an official position on such matters; that would be quite at odds with our libertinism. No, it's entirely up to each individual member which rules, written or unwritten, they recognise as ultimately... well, sensible. Many of us (most, we dare say,) do draw a distinction between the saucy and the sick, between kinky and cruel, between monkey business and molestation. Ask any member of the Sacred Order of Libertines and they'll almost certainly tell you that child abuse is utterly anathema to them; but this is very much... a parameter of personal principles. We condemn it not because convention sets our conscience thus but because the rape of a child is a no-brainer as ethical evaluations go. Rape in and of itself is a no-brainer as ethical evaluations go. As a wise Watson once said: no shit, Sherlock.

So Mr Wrong really ought not to think of this as our being "sensitive to violations of the boundaries of the sexual code." That would rather imply there was a sexual code, singular and set in stone, no? That language of limits, of boundaries and breaches, rather binds his "sexual code" to the notion of customs, conventions, morés, when the truth is that we Libertines each hold to our own ethics, our own individual code, sexual and social. It's not conventional morality that's the cause of various overlaps in our values, simply that our ethics holds empathy in high esteem, simply that in many situations -- such as where a sexual act constitutes molestation -- one would have to be monstrous in order for one's empathy not to condemn such acts as unconscionable. In fact, we wonder what kind of disturbed individual would consider the rule of law to be the only functional restraint here? What kind of warped imagination sees authority as the only active force inhibiting atrocity? Ye dogs, but it seems the sign of a troubled psyche to imagine this, to think that any but the sickest soul would even have such urges, let alone require some moral orthodoxy to restrain them. For most of us it merely requires a shred of human feeling.

This does seem to be a worryingly common theme in the Legalitarian arguments though. When they come out with grandiose proclamations such as, "it is not possible for tribes of our race to live together in peace without laws to punish and customs to instruct," they clearly just don't understand how and why we mysteriously managed to survive without written law up until Hammurabi. They clearly just don't understand that customs are not magically dispensed from on high, that the only reason they even have that morality is because the "virtuous" among us are so defined because they live naturally by their ethical and empathic judgements, not following customs but setting them by example, and doing so because they care to. They clearly don't understand that the reason we have a degree of informal custom and authority is to keep children on the straight and narrow until they reach maturity and learn to navigate for themselves the ethical Scyllla and Charybdis of life as a human being. They clearly don't understand, it pains us to say, that the only adults who require to be held in check by custom and authority are those who don't understand this -- the ethical retards who haven't made it that far and the twisted sociopaths who perhaps never will.

But you Elders of Sodom are really better at explaining this than us -- how ethics is born of pragmatics and aesthetics, how an amoral but ethical Libertine is therefore quite likely to recognise that a just law is a sensible thing, a praxis of ethics, how we are in fact more likely to champion justice than the Legalitarians who cling to obsolete rulebooks in which, for example, a husband is entitled to rape his wife. How we champion liberty from morals because custom and authority are a Cretin's Code, a debased form of ethics we outgrew with the first taste of cock or cunt. We are not children to have our judgements of right and wrong made for us. We'll leave that to the Mr Wrongs of the world.

With love,

The Sacred Order of Libertines


Dear Elders of Sodom,

Well, since you ask nicely, and since we approve whole-heartedly of this Outer Alliance Pride Day, we suppose we can be drawn into at least a quasi-official public statement of our sympathies. But we really still can't comment much more on Mr Wrong's notion of virtue as self-restraint as, for the most part, we find it incoherent. When someone starts claiming that "intolerance, as it is called in the anti-conceptual jargon of PC" is really the "logic of chastity," they're redefining their terms out of the realm of rational debate.

So, when we speak of tolerating the distinct practices of a distinct set of individuals -- as say when we do not persecute Jews for practicing their religious faith, or when we do not persecute Gypsies for living by the customs of their ethnic identity, or when we do not persecute women for daring to breach the traditional ordinances that would subjugate them to men, or when we do not persecute homosexuals for their loves and lusts just because we consider "homosex" an "abomination", or when we do not persecute People of Colour simply because their skin is a different shade -- so when we call all of this "tolerance," we are using jargon to disguise some sort of failure of chastity? The mind boggles!

Mind you, we can understand why Mr Wrong would equate tolerance of specifically sexual behaviours forbidden by obsolete rulebooks of morality with chastity. The whole notion of chastity is, after all, a catch-all and blind for the obsolete rules that seek to limit sexual behaviour. It is, at heart, a bizarre notion that this blessed carnal communion constitutes a ritual which, if carried out without the sanction of a priest, will somehow reduce one's "purity." We actually rather applaud the recognition of the sacred sacrament of sex, but just between us this rather seems akin to an injunction against using a ouija board in case one ends up possessed by a demon. Not to mention that, where the moral decree is underpinned by the assertion of a power of official sanction, this is clearly an insidious mechanism of investing authority in religious hierarchs. Scratch at the surface of a moralist and you find a megalomaniac or his minion, it seems. There's little point in arguing with someone whose basic contention is that you must kneel before Zod! One simply tells them to fuck off.

Still, there is perhaps one point where the Sacred Order of Libertines might take an appropriate stand against Mr Wrong and his ilk. We rather think he's hoist by his own petard, you see, where he defines justice as "the virtue restricting the appetite of self-interest of the passion of factional loyalty to its proper sphere." We rather think that what he's talking about is impartiality rather than justice. Justice is, as far as the Sacred Order of Libertines are concerned, no mere attitude but rather the practical result of this in equity. It is the balance of distribution, of pain or of pleasure, of anything that can be distributed, in accordance with merit and empathy. And it is an equity that may as easily be the result of an active ethical drive to create such equity, of a passion for harmony that Mr Wrong shows no sign of comprehending but which we know you Elders of Sodom have written into your charter, and which is clearly at the core of this Outer Alliance. That said, we're quite peachy with the notion that curtailing one's self-interest in the name of impartiality is a virtue.

It's just that this surely includes "restricting the appetite of self-interest of the passion of factional loyalty" of Mr Wrong's Matrimonials, those who assert that only a "sexual act inside the boundary of marriage is licit. Any outside is illicit."

This is like a lobby group composed of publicans and fanatically loyal customers asserting that the consumption of alcohol is only licit inside of a licensed premises, that any consumption outside of such is illicit. When the publican, of course, reserves the right to refuse entry and/or service at will. When they will not, of course, refuse their fanatically loyal customers. When those they do refuse are denied even the right to consume alcohol in the privacy of their own homes. When those they do refuse are refused simply because they prefer the sharp tang of a dry gin martini over the lukewarm bottled beer from the brewery that owns the bar. Denying entry and service on the basis of contempt for any and all who guzzle cocktails rather than cat's-piss, seeking to deny them even the right to consume alcohol at all outside the hallowed insitution of the pub, these factional loyalists strive to establish a sweet little privilege for themselves, utterly at odds with the principle that "neither self-love nor love of one’s own will interfere with the rational judgment concerning strangers and rivals and enemies."

So too do Mr Wrong and his Matrimonials allow their "appetite of self-interest of the passion of factional loyalty" to interfere with their rational judgement as regards homosexuals. If justice is, as Mr Wrong asserts, "rendering reward, penalty, courtesy, and dignity each according to his merit, rather than to the interests or personal loyalties of the judge," then he and his Matrimonials fail rather miserably in this regard. It's a mark of just how deeply they fail, how deeply their rational judgement is compromised that even when they recognise that they have rendered a profound discourtesy and indignity to a swathe of people they regard as "strangers and rivals and enemies," even when they acknowledge that their "tone of contempt" was grossly abusive, they ultimately excuse this as merited -- the condemnation righteous, any sense of insult a "self-inflicted wound."

In contrast to Mr Wrong and his Matrimonials, we of the Sacred Order of Libertines are actually sincere in our celebration of justice, whether as an attitude of impartiality or as the actualities of equity. Why, the very notion of Libertinism is that Mr Wrong and his ilk stand for injustice, for partiality and inequity, that they strive to create privileges for themselves by denying others their rights. This is why, at the end of the day, we stand beside you, our Brothers in Buggery -- or slouch at least, in our dissolute state after the debauchery of last night -- and proclaim your rights. Your liberty is our liberty and our liberty is yours. We salute you, Elders of Sodom. We see no reason to render either reward or penalty for your choice of cocktails over cat's piss, but we see every reason to render you the courtesy and dignity of making your choice according to your taste, to render you explicit respect in outright denial of the self-righteous judgement of moralistic oafs. And as for this Outer Alliance you've thrown your lot in with. All we can say is: where do we sign?

Yes, stand proud as a purple-veined prick, Elders of Sodom, pulsing with your red-blooded vigour, throbbing with your passion for freedom, for the freedom to love and to lust, to have and to hold, in matrimony, matelotage or the marvelous marriage of flesh in which one simply makes sweet fuckee-fuckee with a sexylicious squeeze. A salute, Elders of Sodom! To the salt of your sweat! To the scent of your skin! To your cocks and cunts and all that you do with them!

To liberty!

With love,

The Sacred Order of Libertines


And in answer to that question -- where do we sign? -- the simple answer is here. And if you think I'm cheating here by not posting queer speculative fiction (cause, yanno, the Sacred Order of Libertines is just as real as the Elders of Sodom,) well, you can always go read "The Behold of the Eye". It has a fairy called Flashjack. Nuff said.

Peace and pride, mi amigos! Peace and pride!

Busy Busy Busy Busy

Man, it's all go at the moment. I keep meaning to getting around to blog about the Mono launch party for Andrew Raymond Drennan's Cancer Party the other Monday, or the audition to play King Charles I in a dramatic reconstruction on the Tuesday (cause writers be poor and could use the dosh so WTF why not sign up to an extras agency (though, alas, no word back yet)), or the Friday night performance of Word Dogs at Underword through in Edinburgh as part of the Fringe and how I left my very nice leather satchel on the train back to Glasgow, or the Amanda Palmer gig on the Saturday night where I was joking rather loudly about how the perniciously positive influence of Neil Gaiman on Ms. Palmer HAD TO BE STOPPED (mark my words, he'll have her singing about kittens and bunny rabbits and flowers instead of abortions and date rape and general fucked-upness!) only to be told that he was standing right behind me, or the double-header performance of meself and Richard Mosses at Underword on the Sunday night, and how after staying over with A & J for the night I managed to pick up aforesaid nice leather satchel at Lost Property on the way home (hoorah!), or the pdf of the piano music for Beautiful Dream which I got through from the college kids in the US (Hi, Beth! Hi, Ben!) who want to stage it with their theatre group (though it's by no means certain they'll be able to yet,) or the Sekrit Projekt that may be manifesting.

But I don't seem to have time.

So instead I'll just say a big YAY, cause it looks like I'll be going to Utopiales again this year, which is extraspecialgood what with me being up for the Prix Européen Utopiales 2009 and, hey, I'm working on the principle that I won't win, but if I'm going to drown my sorrows anywhere, where better than in the Land of Red Wine-A-Plenty, and this year I'll definitely make it along to the giant wooden elephant thingy.

So, yeah. Busy busy busy busy.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A Sodomite's Sermon

Siblings and supporters of the Elders of Sodom, it is time to name the problem we're fighting when it comes to representation in the media, representation of those who I will call queer for the sake of simplicity, those of sexual orientations and gender identites that are not the default. It is time to sweep away once and for all the talk of "political correctness" and "quotas", time to sweep away this rhetoric that accommodates the caveats of cowardly prejudice disguised as prudence. What caveats do I mean? Who here has not heard someone say of those queer characters so absent from the screens, "Well, I don't mind them being there, as long as it's important to the story"?

I say it is time to raise the sword of a word, a simple word but one with an edge so sharp that surely none can fail to recognise its meaning, to bring it sweeping down to cut the Gordian Knot of tangled discourse, to cut the crap and call this what it is:


I do not use this word lightly. Many might think that in doing so I trivialise the struggles undergone by people of colour under that heinous system. But, in defiance of those conservatives who belittle the issue at stake here, I hope that by putting the correct name to it, I can drive home just how important it is, for any who think we can afford complacency. I truly believe that those struggles are not over, that the system of division and exclusion persists in a more subtle form, and that the problem as it stands now is shared. In many ways -- not all, but many -- our struggle is theirs and their struggle is ours, and the struggle of others too.

Segregation still exists in the media, in the movies and the TV shows, where the abject is absented, where there is the default and the deviant, the "normal" and the "abnormal". In the media, in the mainstream, the default is white, straight, able-bodied, and so on. And those of us who watch those media, as members of any group abjected on the basis of some marker of deviance from that default, we thirst for stories in which we are represented. We thirst for the art and entertainment that refreshes and replenishes. Sometimes we have our own water-fountains to quench that thirst -- queer television, queer cinema -- movies and shows that deal with our lives, our issues. This is good. But as long as we are excluded, as long as we are allowed into the mainstream only when it is "important to the story," as long as we can walk into those stories only to carry out set roles in service of the white, straight, able-bodied heroes and heroines -- as Magic Negroes or as Gay Best Friends -- this is still segregation.

The Magic Negro in a movie or a show is a house-maid, coming in from the ghetto to clean a house that is not theirs, in an all-white neighbourhood where all too many houses have such servants. So too is the Gay Best Friend. We do not live in these movies and shows; our homes are elsewhere. We are strangers in these neighbourhoods, allowed in only to fulfill our appointed task, as and when it is "important to the story" -- when the hero must be given counsel by some latter-day medicine man, or when the heroine must be given consolation by some gossipy confidante. These are the day-jobs we work in the neighbourhoods of the privileged before we go home, at the end of the day, to the ghetto.

This is segregation.

There are those who are privileged by this segregation and would like it to stay that way. There are those who wilfully misrepresent our cause when we object to this segregation. So one in ten are queer, they say, and now every tenth seat at the front of the bus is to be set aside for the queers! Now the bus driver is to ensure all seats are allocated in accordance with some quota system! Now some poor, old, white, straight man will be refused a seat! Now that seat will be set aside for some queer who is not "important to the story," some queer who's only on the bus to fill that seat!

These are lies born of paranoia that is, in turn, born of prejudice.

When we pressure for better representation, it is not quotas we are asking for. This is not "political correctness." What we are asking for is simply integration. What we are asking for is the end of segregation, the dismantling of the system, of the barriers of prejudice that exclude us. We do not want a queer character in every TV show, only to know that we are as likely to find them there as elsewhere, as likely to find them there as in reality, and not in service to the heroes and heroines, not as second-class citizens of the imagination, but as equals. We do not want a set number of seats allocated for us at the front of the bus. It is simply that we will no longer tolerate being sent to the back. We will not tolerate segregation.

When we pressure for better representation then, we need to make it clear just what we are asking for, and just how important it is, by calling it what it is. Integration. And what is integration? It is no more and no less than that when we are thirsty for the stories that replenish the soul -- because this is what all art does, high or low -- that when we are thirsty for a tale of love and death that can speak to us as much as to any other, we are not turned away from the water fountains of the privileged, forced to walk across the street to special water fountains set aside for us, to quench that thirst.

We can all advocate for integration. We can all speak up. Some of us are in positions where we can act to further integration, and I urge those who are to do so. Some are in positions of much power in this respect -- television executives, movie producers -- and where they commit to this cause, where they recognise that it is just, where they know they have not done enough in the past and promise to do more from now on, I commend them for that commitment. Those of us calling for integration may push and prod with criticism, may stress the importance of real results over empty sentiments, but we should not, I think, vent our frustration on those who are at least sympathetic. We may well need to confront them with their complacency once in a while, sting them out of their inaction with harsh words, but they are not the heart of the problem. The heart of the problem is what those powers-that-be are up against, the pressure exerted by the prejudiced and privileged to maintain this unjust segregation by shrouding it in misdirections and misrepresentations.

So when the prejudiced and the privileged say, "Well, I don't mind them being there, as long as it's important to the story," let us call them what they are: segregationists. They don't mind us performing a function. They don't mind us dispensing the wisdom of the Magic Negro or the comfort of the Gay Best Friend. But if we don't have to be there, if we're not there to do our job, well... it's not like we would just be there anyway, not like we might belong there, as they do, in that "nice" neighbourhood.

Recently in the blogosphere, we have seen the lies of segregationism in their most vicious form, in the words of a writer, one who claims to be a man of reason, Mr John C. Wright. As he says himself on his LiveJournal:

[I]n recent days a certain article appeared in this space, where I complained, not without abundant sarcasm and scorn, that the Sci-Fi Channel (or Syfy Channel, if you insist) had yielded to the forces of political correctness, and were persuaded (or cowed) into publically apologizing for their lack of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered characters on their programs, and promised to have writers include more.

"... not without abundant sarcasm and scorn..."

Mr Wright does himself an injustice. He was more than generous in his sarcasm and scorn. Some would say too generous, his article dripping with disdain at the "abomination," as he describes it, of, as he describes it, "homosex." He goes out of his way to ensure we know that, yes, he is explicitly "equating homosexuality with sadomasochism, pederasty, necrophilia, bestiality, and other sexual neuroses." It is the rhetoric of "moral degeneracy" used throughout history against the abject, the rhetoric of corruption and depravity, of the curse of Ham or the sins of Sodom. It may be rationalised where it occurs, but we see it for what it is, this "sarcasm and scorn." It is the ahorrence of the abject. It is the revulsion born of a deep horror. It is the profound panic and paranoia felt in the face of the Other by the segregationist, the segregationist who can only feel secure when the scapegoat symbol of all that is different -- all that is deviant because it is different, all that is diabolic because it is deviant -- is exiled to the ghettos, allowed in to the "nice" neighbourhoods only in the chains of stereotyping. And only when it's "important to the story."

But it is the lies of the segregationists that matter most, not the unreasoned fears that fuel them. Wright's statement as I have quoted it is not a lie in its own right, since that is what his complaint was -- that the SyFy Channel fell on their knees in fear and trembling, were coerced into craven supplication before the altar of "political correctness." It is true that this was Wright's complaint. It is simply that this complaint is a straw man built around a lie. It may well be a lie he believes with every fibre of his being, but it is still a lie.

The truth is simple: that GLAAD, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Anti Defamation, criticised various television networks for their poor performance as regards the integration of queer characters; that contacted these channels to ask for their reaction; that where not one of the other channels criticised responded, to quote from the article itself: "Syfy's executive vice president of original content, Mark Stern, accepted's invitation to react as well as discuss his network's plans for a more diverse future."

Here is what Mr Stern said:

"We are disappointed, obviously," Stern said of the NRI grade. "The 'F' is hard because we are trying, it is something that is in our vocabulary. But we need to work harder."

I see no cowed apology here. I see no gesture of coerced contrition. I see a sincere regret at living up to one's own standards. I see a commitment to the hard effort of integration, an assurance that it is an issue under discussion at the network, a recognition that more effort needs to be made. This is a laudable expression of support for the cause of integration.

But to the segregationist, in his panic and paranoia, this can only be a submission to a hostile agency with a far wider agenda. The segregationist cannot help, it seems, but misrepresent the cause of integration to himself as much as to others. In the eyes of the segregationist, integration is infiltration, infection, invasion, a conspiracy to overthrow the whole social order, not just to take from them the privileges they see as rights, but to deny them the very rights we say belong to every human being, the very rights that they deny us.

"The express purpose of that inclusion," says Wright, "was to influence the public mind into altering traditional laws and customs to conform to those of the political-cultural Left."

This is an outright lie. There is no express purpose in Stern's statement, only an implicit one. To quote directly from the article again:

In both the SGU and Caprica examples, the character's sexuality is merely one facet of who they are, says Stern. "It is not about, 'Oh, look, isn't that progressive, that this person is gay?' No, they are simply gay. There is no commentary necessary," he says. "And that's what were striving for, to make it a naturalistic thing."

A naturalistic thing. Not "natural," but "naturalistic." In other words, the purpose of inclusion is not even to affirm the character's sexuality. It is simply to include, to present characters whose sexuality is a facet of who they are. It is not to score a point with the liberals, not to placate the PC ideologues with a token gesture, but simply to represent reality more naturalistically. To make queer characters present in fiction simply because we are present in reality. This is not, as Wright says, "an expression of loyalty to the idea that art and entertainment exist subordinate to the crusades of politics." This is an expression of loyalty to the idea that art and entertainment are better -- more relevant, more resonant -- when they represent reality more faithfully, more naturalistically. It is an expression of loyalty to the idea that this aesthetic standard is more important than the political agenda of the segregationists, more important than their crusade.

Mr Wright asks us to imagine the outcry if the SyFy channel had apologized to a televangelist, promised more shows promoting "family values" or "displaying Christians in a more favorable light." I say, we do not need to imagine this, as we have direct experience of television networks and film studios issuing such apologies. The BBC has a responsibility to produce religious programming written into its charter, has a department specifically geared towards that end; and where in the past it has been criticised for not doing enough, it has responded not just with apologies but with strategic action. Do the integrationists raise an outcry at this? Do we seek to curtail "artistic integrity and freedom" with incensed rhetoric and incendiary condemnations? No.

No, it is the segregationists who seek to exclude, who seek to maintain the absence of the abject from the mainstream, who seek to silence. It is the segregationists who demand submission to their political agenda, demand this not just of television networks and film studios but of the world. We do not have to imagine this. We have direct experience of city councils, regional authorities, even governments humbly expressing contrition in the face of criticism by religious ideologues. Only last year in Scotland, we had a regional police force apologise to local Islamic leaders for the offense caused by posters showing a sixth month old puppy in training to be a police dog -- this being offensive because dogs are "unclean." For twenty-odd years in Glasgow, The Life of Brian was banned by order of the city council because it was held to be blasphemous. It is not the integrationists who seek to silence. Yet, the segregationists of today have the audacity to talk of us as "Thought Police."

Let me tell you a story to illustrate exactly what the segregationists are asking for. It is a story I've told before, but it's a story that bears repeating.

When I was sixteen years old in high school, at the height of the AIDS epidemic, at the height of a nation-wide hysteria born of a conflation of homosexuality and paedophilia, a panic and paranoia at the idea of gay teachers "recruiting impressionable children," the Conservative government of Margaret Thatcher came up with a piece of legislation called Clause 28. If that name reminds you just a little of "Catch-22," I ask you to hold that thought.

Clause 28 was designed to prohibit the "promotion of homosexuality" by local authorities. At its heart, it was designed to exclude from school libraries any work of fiction that "promoted" homosexuality. Which is to say, any work that could be read as representing homosexuality in a positive light. Which is to say, for many, any work that simply represented a character's sexuality as a non-issue, as a "naturalistic thing" one might say, since the essential message of such a work would be that homosexuality is acceptable. One might debate whether this is a proper application of such vague terminology. One might debate whether "promotion" would apply only to a representation of homosexuality as more than acceptable, whether the work would really have to present it as admirable.

One might, I say, debate this.

But I could not.

As members of the school debating society at the time, myself and another student approached the teacher who ran it, suggesting Clause 28 as a topic for debate. I believe, though I cannot honestly remember, that it was headline news at the time because it had just passed through Parliament and become UK law as Section 28. It may still have been in progress though, so I will continue to refer to it as Clause 28, for the sake of simplicity. Again, if this name reminds you of "Catch-22" I ask you to hold that thought.

To us it seemed that Clause 28 was a highly pertinent topic -- completely current and more directly relevant to us as school pupils than any number of issues. For any sixteen year old in school in the UK, queer or straight, for any sixteen year old in a debating society, it was the single most obvious topic for discussion. The teacher understood this. No teacher at the time could not understand this, because they more than anyone else would be affected by this legislation. They knew that, ultimately, it was their jobs on the line if they did anything that breached Clause 28. They knew that if they did or said anything that might be interpreted as "promoting homosexuality," this might be a sacking offense.

And so the teacher, with regret written on his face, vetoed Clause 28 as a topic for debate, because to allow the debate could be construed as allowing the "promotion of homosexuality."

If any of you have not read the Joseph Heller book, Catch-22, there is a scene in it where the hero, Yossarian, turns up at a brothel to find that it has been raided by the US military. He is told that the women in it were taken away by the American soldiers, to a place unknown and to ends unspecified. He is told that when asked what authority these soldiers were acting on, their only response was, "Catch-22." He is told that when asked to produce proof of this authority, to show their mandate, the soldiers responded that the law did not require them to, the law in fact explicitly said they were not required to. Which law? Catch-22. No discussion could be had, no challenge could be made, because the very law that warranted such discussion, such challenge, quashed it.

How can I make this sink in? How can I make it clear to those who oppose integration what it is they are supporting? Let me put it this way:

When I was sixteen years old, Clause 28 was made law, and throughout the UK, in every school across the nation, a sign was nailed up above the water-fountain of the library, a sign that read, "Straights only." The books that I and others like me thirsted for were stripped from the shelves, taken away. And the same authority that mandated this segregation refused us the right to even question it.

This is why we must speak up against the segregationists. And in the new medium of the internet we have a powerful tool for gathering voices to a chorus of opposition wherever the segregationists seek to propagate their views. Even the most naive of segregationists should know that when they speak of "homosex" and "abomination", of "political correctness" and "quotas," the word will spread like wildfire, from blog to blog, journal to journal. Every one of us can be a beacon, a bonfire lit on a mountain-top, sending the signal out across the land, that here or there the prejudiced and privileged are seeking to reassert their power, to consolidate their control.

The segregationist will decry any challenge to their position that points to the roots of its folly -- prejudice and privilege. That is only a personal attack, they'll say. Give me "some argument, any argument, other than a personal attack." But even as the arguments pour in from all those who find it barbaric to stand for segregation in this day and age, will the segregationist listen? Most likely they will simply retreat into their panic and paranoia, clap their hands over their ears and cry, ad hominem. It is tempting to respond as they do, to say we hate the bigotry, not the bigot. But I prefer sincerity to an irony that will be lost on them.

Calling a bigot a bigot does not address their arguments for segregation. Those arguments are rhetoric rather than logic, and barely make enough sense to be argued with, but they are dangerously persuasive to many, to those who take them at face value; so those arguments must be addressed wherever they arise . They must be exposed for what they are, but not just with words of outrage, not just with an outcry at the underlying folly. For the segregationist will dismiss this as "a mindless (and not very imaginative) flood of personal attacks." They will dismiss this as "an organized flood of hate-mail," from persons "operating on autopilot." They will say these "boilerplate" comments look "prepared," as if we were "following a playbook, or, to be specific, following a habituated response." They will cast aspersions on the motives for this "organized outrage," say that it seems to them "a thing done to deceive the unwary." They will insinuate a lack of "independent judgement", a lack of "innocent reason." They will insinuate self-interest on the part of leaders. In short, they will attack with the very ad hominem arguments they accuse us of, impugning the source of the criticisms, not the substance, calling us "orcs" and "trolls".

So I do not call Mr Wright a homophobe. If I attack his arguments as embodying prejudice, I say this of the words, not the man. I do not call him a bigot.

I simply call him a segregationist.

I know that for me this word resounds in my head and heart with a note so deep and loud it rattles the soul. Its toll is that of the heaviest of bells, for its weight is its own history, and all that history echoes in every utterance. So when the prejudiced and privileged seek to reassert their power, when they raise up their rhetoric against us to consolidate their control, I say we should sound that bell, for its message is as clear as it is true. Where they say, "political correctness," let us say, "segregation." Where they say "quotas," let us say, "integration." Where they say, "when it's important to the story," let us say, "when we are thirsty, let us drink where you would drink."

It is not 1969. It is 2009. And it is long past time that all segregation was ended, not just for those of us I am calling queer, not just for the gays and lesbians, the trans and bisexual, the intersexed and asexual, not just for all those of whatever sexual orientation or gender identity, but for people of colour, for people of disability, for any and all whose absence from our screens is due to their abjection. For all those who have been demonised as dogs and fornicators, reviled for mere difference. We will no longer live in the ghettoes beyond their gated neighbourhoods. We will no longer enter only in the uniforms of service they demand, the snow-white uniforms that mark us as their waiting staff. We will no longer be turned away from the water-fountains.

We will no longer be turned away from the water-fountains, for the water is the water of life, and it is and must be for all who are thirsty.

And when the segregationists cry out, as the signs above the water-fountains are torn down, we will sing in celebration. We will drink deep so our voices do not crack, and we will sing in celebration. And even though our throats are raw, our voices ragged, we will not be sent across the street to drink in silence, but we will gather at those water-fountains where the signs still hang, and cry out for integration. We will gather at each water-fountain and cry out for integration until the day the sign above it is torn down, and we can drink and sing in celebration.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Another Message for Mr Wright

Dear Mr Wright,

From what I read of those eight hundred plus comments, there were more than "one or two" that offered honest argument, and there were more than "one or two" posted by individuals whose feelings were "actually hurt." You may consider the former arguable, but to argue the latter is absurd. Are all but "one or two" of this multitude brazen liars? To delete those comments is your prerogative, of course, but you misrepresent what you delete in order to dismiss the dissent as negligible. And when you limit your apology to "one or two" among eight hundred, that would translate to a whole 0.25% chance for any individual who commented that you actually even mean your apology for them, a whole 0.25% chance that you have any respect for their arguments, any recognition that they were genuinely insulted. Take my word on it, Mr Wright -- or call me a liar if you wish -- with words like "homosex" and "abomination" you insulted a lot more than just "one or two."

Further, how are we to even see that apology as sincere when you shirk responsibility for any slight, when you a) characterise any offense as "a self-inflicted sort of wound," b) insist on the validity of your condemnation, and c) excuse even your "tone of contempt" with further insults that characterise us as "thin-skinned," laying blame on society for making us so? Given such features, this apology rather seems calculated to invite "scorn and contempt," to draw derisive rejections you can claim as evidence of unreason, furthering the representation of yourself as a pious victim of persecution by unthinking PC "orcs". Note that I say this with as neutral a tone as I can -- no disdain, simply an evaluation that your apology lacks any sense of honest repentance.

And you yourself are "factually wrong" because of this. It is simply untrue that when you say, "anyone reading my posts knows my sympathies rest with the gays." Anyone? I can tell you for a fact that your original post communicated nothing of the sort to me. I doubt very much that it communicated anything of the sort to most. I can tell you also for a fact that, for the reasons detailed above, this post is equally unsympathetic even if it is less explicitly contemptuous. You paint us as oversensitive naifs whose ire is disproportionate (a product of cosseting by society,) whose sexual orientation is entirely deserving of your judgement, and who essentially call "any hurt" down upon ourselves. To say that the offense taken is "self-inflicted" is rather to say that we are ourselves responsible for the degree of contempt that creates it, the degree of contempt you level at us in terms like "homosex" and "abomination." Other than your superficial insistence then, there is no indication whatsoever here that your sympathies rest with the gays, and there is every indication that you abhor us.

You should note, by the way, that where you say, "My enmity is for the political Left, whom I believe are exploiting the gays for purposes of their own. They will throw the gays under the bus when they have no more need of them," this makes it quite clear that your enmity is levelled at individuals you condemn rather than their actions. Which is to say you hate the sinner, not just the sin.

Let me be clear again that I say this not with "scorn and contempt," but as a straightforward appraisal of your apology as to how well it functions as an apology. And I post this here not to coerce you by censure into a less dubious gesture of contrition, but only because you (and your defenders) either understand little or care less about the very real reasons for the ferocity of the responses, and there is some small chance that if it is the former, perhaps this may go some way to making you reconsider your dismissive attitudes.

Yours sincerely

THE.... Sodomite Hal Duncan!!

Unofficial Spokesperson, The Elders of Sodom

Thursday, August 20, 2009

A Story From Sodom

The reason can judge whether a risk is worth facing, but unless the passions are habituated to follow the reason, a mere sense of rage and honor, or a mere sense of self-preservation, will make a man flee when he should stand, or stand when he should flee.

There is a story told of two young men, both hustlers by trade, who were caught up the Great Destruction of Sodom. The two had finished their work for the night, confused by how quiet it was in the market square, not knowing that all the other Sodomites were currently at the door of Lot's house, demanding that the angels be brought out. Contrary to the official version, in this story, word had spread from a servant in Lot's household, that the angels were there to raze the city. Contrary to the official version, in this story, the men of Sodom had besieged Lot's house not from a desire to fuck the angels, but from a desire to fuck them up. They were not going to go quietly because a) God had a wacky notion that "virtue" consisted of offering one's daughters to an angry mob, b) Lot was the only man in town who fit the bill in terms of those morés, everyone else considering this profoundly unethical, and c) Abraham hadn't managed to haggle God down from "Ten good men and I spare the city" to "Oh, OK, one will do."

So, anyway, it just so happened that our two young hustlers passed by Lot's house on the way back to the rented apartment (and bed) they shared just off the Castro. And it just so happened that they passed by exactly at the point when the angels came out with their swords of fire set to chargrill.

Now, one of our heroes -- we'll call him Joey -- was a youth of great restraint. Most of his restraint came from the use (some said abuse) of an early form of Prozac that worked as a sort of affective inhibitor, not eliminating all emotion, but rendering it highly controllable with habitual use. This drug was called Rezon. Our other hero -- we'll call him Jack -- was an impetuous sort, pretty much driven by his emotions. Much of the time he appeared to be a reckless risk-taker but truth be told most of his risks consisted of jumping from roof-top to roof-top in an early form of parkour which he was actually highly skilled at. The point is that these two heroes had quite different responses when they turned the corner to see two angels chargrilling the majority of their friends, families and regular customers.

Well, I say they had different responses. Actually at a deeper level they had identical responses, the flight-or-fight response kicking in for both of them. Their hearts pounded, their fists clenched, adrenalin coarsed through their bodies, and so on. Both of them were aware of this through the set of sensations we refer to as kinaesthesia . Both of them were also aware of the affective responses that went hand-in-hand with that fight-or-flight response -- the emotions of fury and fear. They saw those angels chargrilling their friends, families and regular customers and felt a powerful urge to throw themselves at the angels in howling rage, for the sake of pride and honour, for the love of all that they held dear. They were pretty fucking angry. But at the same time they saw the heavenly glory of those eight-winged cherubim and were kind of inclined to shit their pants in the face of their terrible wrath and chargrill burny swords. What were they to do? Throw themselves into the battle they might lose or run like fuck and save their skins. I should specify, by the way that Joey and Jack were pretty kick-ass fighters who'd slain quite a few lions and tigers and bears and dragon and chimaera and scorpion-men and quite a lot of freaky shit in their day, kinda like those two brothers in Supernatural only gay. And not brothers. Anyway, they'd thought about going into the mythological hero business (they just didn't have the money for the subway to Greece,) so they weren't entirely sure they couldn't take the motherfuckers. But they hadn't dealt with angels before and these motherfuckers were pretty chargrilltastic, so it was kind of a close call.

The point is, this is where the difference came in.

Joey, he'd just popped a pill, so he was totally in control of both his fury and his fear. He'd been dropping Rezon for so long in fact that he could just stand there and use his critical faculties to weigh up the odds. How tall was the angel? How much armour was he wearing? How far away was he? How many chargrilled friends, family members and regular customers would he have to get past in order to get to the motherfucker before he got chargilled himself? How fast could he run? How likely was it that the angel would spot him? Which way was the angel moving? Where was he looking now? In the cold calculus of survival, Joey stood there working out the SWOT analysis in his head, assigning numerical values to various factors, working out a set of equations modelling crowd dynamics, reach of sword-of-fire chargrill flame blasts, all sorts of data relevant to an accurate assessment of whether he should throw himself into battle or run like fuck. Just at the point where he came to his decision, needless to say, the angel spotted him and verily turned his sword of fire upon the poor lad, chargrilling him where he stood.

Jack meanwhile had long since dived for cover on the first sight of the angels, into the nearest barrel, which turned out to be Diogenes the Cynic's vacation home (though he wasn't on vacation at the moment, so it was OK.) It didn't take Jack long to weigh up the odds at all. He didn't really think about, just took a quick peek out of the barrel and thought, fuck this shit! He didn't reckon he could take either of the angels even if Joey got his arse in gear and went for the other one -- which he judged basically by the strength of his urge to shit his pants relative to the strength of his urge to rip the motherfuckers heads off. So he was just about to shout, Let's get the fuck out of here! at Joey when the angel turned his chargrilling sword-of-fire on Joey. Jack didn't even think, just dived out of the barrel and slammed Joey out of his path.

What? I said Joey got burned? I lied. It's a story. Stories are made of lies.

Anyway, Jack didn't stop there. He hit the ground in a roll and came out of it on his feet and running, leaping over the crowd with all the parkour skills he could muster. He was on the first angel before the motherfucker even knew what had hit him, snapping the bastard's neck as fast as you can say Jack Flash, stripping the sword of fire from the bastard's grip and turning it on the other, chargrilling him like an Furby in the path of a flamethrower. Those eight wings went up a treat.

And that's the story of how Jack saved Sodom from the Great Destruction.

What? I told you it's a story. You think the one in the Bible is any truer?

The moral of this story -- apart from don't fuck with a Sodomite hustler's friends, family members and regular customers -- is that whenever anyone asked Jack about it, called him a hero, he'd just shrug and say that he didn't even think about it at the time. He didn't think about it when he dived into the barrel, just acted on the fear that kicked in just that little bit harder than the fury. He didn't think about it when he saved Joey's life, just saw the flame coming through the air, felt a dagger of fear in his heart at the thought of losing him, a fear that over-rode all sense of self-preservation. He didn't think about it when having slammed Joey to safety, all he felt was white-hot fury at these motherfucking bastard angels coming into his Sodom and trying to kill his mate Joey, this fury so hot that his cold terror of the angels just evaporated. And he went into action.

-- Fuck, man, he'd say. Who actually stops to think about shit like that?


On Sophistry and Subjectivity

Dear Mr Wright,

Moving on from our discussion of your spurious notions of virtue and vice in our previous letter, we were most amused by your attempt to magic morality into objectivity by a sleight-of-hand bootstrapping. Let us consider your argument, such that it is. Basically, you ask whether we ought to be honest or dishonest when we make an inquiry as to whether morals are subjective. According to your logic:

If the answer is that we ought to make this inquiry dishonestly, then (a fortiori) we are not bound the results. For a dishonest thinker is under no moral obligation to accept a conclusion to which his logic drives him; even if he loses the argument, a dishonest thinker is not under a duty to change his mind or mend his ways. For what will impose the moral duty upon the dishonest thinker to conform his thoughts to the conclusions dictated by reason? Why must he be truthful even to himself? Why listen to his conscience?

For the most part this is just badly thought-through. If our inquirer's logic drives him to a conclusion that he would be dishonest not to accept, then the honesty of his inquiry is not the problem. If his reason leads him to a conclusion dictated by logic that he would be dishonest not to confrom his thoughts to, again the problem is not with the honesty of the inquiry. The problem is with a dishonest response to its results, a refusal to "listen to his conscience" in accepting the outcome. And given that we're positing an inquiry, the notion that our thinker is concerned with losing arguments, changing his mind or mending his ways is simply irrelevant to the issue at hand. In short these ramblings bear no relation to the issue, the only relevant problem being that which you articulate in the penultimate rhetorical question. Which is to say, if we are not bound by the results, it is because we canot assume our inquirer -- call him Mr Wrong -- has been truthful to himself in the process of the inquiry.

This is to say, we cannot assume that Mr Wrong has even reached the right conclusion, that Mr Wrong's logic has driven him anywhere other than round in circles, that Mr Wrong even knows he has lost the argument, that Mr Wrong would have any reason to change his mind or mend his ways, that Mr Wrong will not, in fact, be conforming his thoughts to an utterly specious conclusion dictated by entirely a self-deluding reason, that Mr Wrong will not be "listening to his conscience" and yet still be entirely untrustworthy because the lies he tells himself utterly undermine any ability Mr Wrong has to make a rational inquiry.

This is the actual result of the first answer. We do hope you appreciate us making your argument for you properly, Mr Wright. We will be puncturing it shortly; it's just that we hate to see this sort of ham-fisted blather left in such a sorry state that it invites certain unfortunate comparisons with the very Mr Wrong it describes. But on to the other option:

If the answer is that we ought to make this inquiry honestly, we necessarily thereby acknowledge at least one universal moral duty: the duty to think honestly. This duty is universal because the only other possibility, that we have no duty to think honestly, is not something we honestly can think... So we can at the minimum conclude that there is at least one moral duty to which the conscience prompts us, and this duty is a universal, which means it is an absolute, which means that the statement that all moral duties are relative is false.

Unfortunately, this is also rather badly thought-through. If the answer is that we ought to make this inquiry honestly, we do indeed assert a duty to think honestly in this case, but this does not constitute an assertion of a universal moral imperative. We have asserted only that we have a duty to think honestly in regards to this inquiry. Where you attempt to unversalise this as a duty to think honestly at all times, we are afraid to say you rather run off the rails into another episode of bootstrapping, with the spliced-in additional premise that we cannot honestly think that we have no duty to think honestly. Unfortunately this is both an entirely separate assertion... and one that is completely spurious.

We think dishonestly all the time when we make up works of fiction, when we daydream, when we think in metaphors -- which we do constantly at a basic level of our language. We can think quite honestly that the root metaphors of language render the majority of abstract thought literally untrue but figuratively relevant even in its dishonesty, where for example we use the time=money metaphor or any number of similar systems (as identifed in the work of Lakoff). We can think quite honestly that much of our thought is figurative or symbolic and/or rhapsodic in such a way that honesty is not a relevant measure. Even in more mundane circumstances, we can think quite honestly that we are under no obligation not to fantasise. We can think quite honestly that we have no duty not to be Walter Mitty. We can think quite honestly that when we do think honestly, as we do habitually, it is not because we have a moral obligation but because it is a pragmatic imperative. We can think quite honestly that there are only pragmatic imperatives we discern as the logic of necessity, aesthetic imperatives we discern as desires for coherence and comprehensiveness of understanding, desires that predicate for honest thought, even individual ethical imperatives that translate such aesthetic evaluations of behaviour into an ideal self-image, asserting a personally-chosen obligation that we do not project onto others. We can think quite honestly that all purportedly universal moral duties are simply individual ethics formed in very same way, but expounded as essential absolutes by infantile moralists incapable of the post-conventional / autonomous ethics others live by, the sort of ethics that actually generates maxims of a more sophisticated form than, "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live," or, "Don't step on the grass."

Still, we will again pare away your illogic and help you out with your argument. Because, yes, if the answer is that we ought to make this inquiry into the subjectivity of morals honestly, we can at the actual minimum "conclude" that there is a duty to think honestly when we make an inquiry into the subjectivity of morals. This is called a tautology. Since we are feeling generous we'll grant, for the moment, that the answer is offered as a generalised answer to a generalised question, that the question is whether anyone and everyone who is making such an inquiry should, in all cases, do so honestly. We'll grant that if the answer is yes, this asserts a universal moral duty to make such inquiries honestly -- an essential absolute, a moral duty that is not relative.

Unfortunately, even if we accept this, it does not prove that all moral duties are objective, only that there is one objective moral duty: to be honest when we inquire into whether morals are subjective.

As far as the Elders of Sodom are concerned, working on an assumption that this principle, as a general rule, also applies specifically to each and every individual moral in turn, we rather think that by your logic we have a moral duty to actually apply it thus. The imperative to think honestly when we make such an inquiry means that it is a moral imperative to discover the truth about those morals presented as objective. This means that it is a moral imperative not to simply accept that claim on face value on the basis of another's word. That it is a moral imperative to reconsider any conviction born of a previous inquiry with each new set of circumstances -- i.e. in each situation where the imperative may be applied. That it is a moral imperative to discover any potential caveats and contingencies born of possibilities that were not previously considered. That we must treat each moral dictum's universality as unproven in order to evaluate it objectively -- i.e. honestly. That we must meet any such challenge with the honesty of engagement rather than a dishonest denial that this or that rule could possibly be other than objective. That those who do so are righteous given that they are following this one moral duty we have established as objective. That those who do not are wicked given that they are failing to adhere to this one moral dictum we've established as an essential absolute.

That ultimately this very moral imperative taken as absolute requires that we should treat all other moral imperatives as relative until, by a process of honest inquiry, we can decide, to our honest satisfaction, that, to the best of our knowledge, the action predicated by this imperative is indeed essentially capable of being universalised.

This is, we note, an argument that brings us, by way of Kant's Categorical Imperative, a substantial part of the way towards the exact ethics adhered to by the Elders of Sodom, in which the "the standard over-riding all others is that one must, with empathy in mind, use all one's ethical faculties in every situation in a passionate but reasoned attempt to make the best possible evaluation of the most ethical course of action."

We are heartened to see that your "proof" that "the statement that all moral duties are relative is false" is not just weakly constructed, but constructed so as to unravel under scrutiny into an outright demolition of absolutist morality so straightforward that we might almost think you an agent provocateur, a secret ally of ours bent on satirical sabotage of reactionary ideologies (in much the same way that some of us suspect Anne Coulter of being a radical leftist comedian after the manner of Sarah Silverman... only more so,) were it not for the fact that you do seem to think your arguments are sound. You do seem quite sincere. We do therefore rather wonder if perhaps there is an agent provocateur working away in your unconscious, playing merry havoc with your reason and blinding you to the gaping holes and logic-loops in your arguments. We can only hope that there is a part of you somewhere deep inside that sees the nonsense in your ethics and is doing its best to render it obvious, if not to you then to the sort of Good Sodomite who might be willing to highlight them.

(An aside. Ah, yes; the Good Sodomite. You know, there are those among the Elders of Sodom who claim the Good Samaritan was one of us. Sodomite, Samaritan, Sidonian -- it's all about the stranger, you see, the heathen, the infidel, the hated and feared Other whose morés are anathema, whose lifestyle seems debauched, whose cities seem dens of iniquity. The stranger who will nonetheless stop and help a wounded man even as that man's pious brethren pass him by, simply because we consider empathy to all a foundation-stone of ethics. In our version of the Great Destruction, you see, and in is the Jewish interpretation too, actually, the traditional one, inhospitability to strangers was the true crime for which our city was laid waste. And we learned our lesson, we did, in our exile as outcasts, from that day on swearing to spread our message of empathy for those we do not know and do not understand, throughout the cities of the world, to rebuild our Sodom in the interstices of every other city, every town and village, in the bars and cafés, in our words and works. We take our cue from Ezekial 16:53, you know. The restoration of our beloved Sodom is promised by your God. But I digress.)

The sad thing is that we're pretty sure you don't see the flaws in your arguments. You simply do not see, we think, the fact that your whole argument here -- even if we do not let it crumble into the implicit advocacy of honest interrogation of morals, even if we read it as you apparently intended, as a logical double-bind in which the question of whether we ought to be honest or dishonest when we make an inquiry as to whether morals are subjective leads either to an admonition of dishonesty that invalidates the inquiry or an admonition of honesty that amounts to an affirmation of an essential and absolute moral duty, even if we take the latter as "proof" that not all moral imperatives are subjective -- the whole argument is still sophistry.

We can see what you're trying to do here, but we're afraid you're not doing it very successfuly at all. You see, it's patently clear that the term "ought to" in the question renders it a question of the form "Have you stopped beating your wife?" It is a question designed so as to have only two possible answers, "We ought to be dishonest," or "We ought to be honest," both of which carry that same "ought to" and therefore accept the premise that we "ought to" do one or other, which is of course an acceptance that we "ought to" do something. Just as answering "Yes," or "No," to the question "Have you stopped beating your wife?" accepts the implicit premise that one was at some point beating one's wife, answering "Honest," or "Dishonest" to your question accepts the implicit premise that we are obliged to some form of action (whether it be one way or the other).

This is so transparent it's sophomoric.

A simple answer that knocks the whole house of cards down is that we are under no ethical obligation to be either honest or dishonest. We make no acknowledgement that there is a "moral duty" either way. We can be honest or dishonest as we choose. We can even do so according to the subjective morals we learned from our culture or the personal ethics we have selected for ourselves. We can say simply that, in our subjective opinion, we ought to do this or that, but that others will almost certainly think differently. In the "law and order" mentality in its most rigid form, the fundamental challenge to the social order often renders the very act of an inquiry into whether morals are subjective prohibited without exception. This is a dishonest denial, as far as we're concerned, because the question is always already asked, the inquiry always already begun, and this "moral" duty to defend the social order simply serves to silence that inquiry with a lie: that we must not ask that question. It is self-evident to us that our opinion that one it is right to ask honestly and their opinion that it is not (because it is not right to ask at all) are just that -- opinions. Subjective ethical evaluations.

Actually, as a writer, you should really be aware that even this criticism is unnecessary, as while you have set up a question where the only answers acceptable according to its form have a deontic modality written into them, you have selected the wrong deontic modality. Which is to say, in order to set your sophistic double-bind up properly, you would need to use "must" in the question rather than "ought to" since the latter, like "should," is only restrictive rather than prescriptive, the flip-side of the permissive "may". What I mean is, where the modality of the prescriptive "must" renders a statement an absolute imperative, a deontic necessity, the modality of restrictive "ought to" or "should" renders the action described in the statement preferred but not mandatory. If we "ought to" do something, this allows that we "may not". If we "ought not" to do something, this allows that we "may".

Had you asked the question in the form, "If the answer is yes, then must we make this inquiry honestly, or dishonestly?" then you would have had the sophistic double-bind you need to render the second answer the absolute moral duty you mean it to be -- "We must ask it honestly." This would not make it any more than a sophomoric, "Have you stopped beating your wife?" It would simply bring it up to that level. As it stands however it doesnt even work as that. Where you ask, "If the answer is yes, then ought we to make this inquiry honestly, or dishonestly?" the second answer only asserts a contingent restriction, "We ought to (but may not) ask it honestly." This simply does not articulate the absolute moral duty you appear to think it does.

Further, the deontic modality of "ought to" also functions as an imperative of practicality ("We ought to ask honestly (in order to achieve a true result.)") quite as easily as it works as an imperative of duty. Hell, it does so equally as easily as it functions as a boulomaic imperative, which is to say of desire, ("We ought to ask honestly (in the sense that we/I desire the inquiry to be honest)." One can, in fact, answer your question quite comfortably with the answer that "We ought to ask it honestly," taking both question and answer as an interrogation and assertion of the principle of honesty as regards such an inquiry on purely pragmatic and/or aesthetic grounds. Arguing the specifics of those grounds -- the pragmatic utility of finding the truth, of establishing a sound principle for future behaviour, the aesthetic preference for consistent theory, the pleasure of understanding, and so on, and so on, and so on, in an inexhaustable supply of reasons as to why honesty is simply "best practice" -- is, in fact, precisely what ethical evaluation is all about. What are the ramifications, the pros and cons, for us and others? And with empathy as a crucial weighting factor in that decision what should we do?

As far as we are concerned, on purely pragmatic and aesthetic grounds, your question is a no-brainer. Why must Mr Wrong be truthful even to himself? It is beyond staggering to the Elders of Sodom that you think this a sensible question, that you can see no reason for a man to be truthful to himself other than some spurious absolute essentialist universal moral dictum. Your modality of "must" is a bit more deserved here, but this is simply because it is a pragmatic necessity -- an epistemic imperative rather than a deontic imperative. Since the goal of inquiry is to establish truth, it stands to reason that the inquiry, to be a correctly formed inquiry, must be honest.

The utter vacuity of this pompous pretence of philosophy leaves us breathless. We take our hats off to you, Mr Wright, honest we do. In all the millennia we have roamed the earth since the Great Destruction, we have rarely seen such a gobsmackingly poor excuse for an argument. Do you seriously believe this? Do you honestly found your whole position on this sort of inchoate cross-wired illogic? If this is truly the basis of your beliefs, it is little wonder that those beliefs are so ethically addled. We would urge you to rethink your whole philosophy from the ground up, with a thorough -- and honest -- inquiry into the moralistic mindset that underpins it. We are trying our best to engage you as the "more rational man" than we, as you see it, make you out to be, to address your appeals for reasoned argument, but we are inclined to ape Hercules in his cleaning out of the Augean Stables, to be honest. There's seems little point in working our way through the whole sorry mess of manure, shovelling it out spadeful by spadeful, not when the whole construction is built on poisoned earth over a cess-pit of raw sewage.

Yours sincerely

The Elders of Sodom

Scribed by Hal Duncan

Stoicism, Sophistry and Sodomy

Dear Mr Wright,

It appears we have to write to you again, since you've clearly not considered our previous communication at any great depth. It has come to our attention that you've now set out the "rationale" for your views at some length, unfortunately reiterating even in the earliest stages some of the basic faults we pointed to as evidence of a profound unreason. So we find ourselves once again reading your words and finding the mindset articulated quite bizarre, to be frank. Let us try and explain. You say:

The Stoics reason as follows: of things, some are within our control, and others are not. Things within our control include the reason, which is the seat of logic and judgment, the passions, which is the seat of honor and virtue (good habits or bad), and the appetites, which is the seat of desire. Things not within our control include externals: your flesh, your money, your rank in society, your reputation in the eyes of others, the fortunes of war, whether you are healthy or sick, whether you live or die. You can influence these things only indirectly; you can try, but you cannot be assured of success.

Even a cursory inspection of the human condition provides us with ample experience that the passion and appetites cannot be controlled unless habituated. One cannot, merely by a momentary effort of will, create or put aside a passion or an appetite, until and unless those passions and appetites are by long habit of self discipline subject to the sovereignty of the reason. The power to put aside unreasonable passions and appetites is called “virtue” (indeed, originally, the word “virtue” simply meant “power.”)

The Elders of Sodom reason otherwise. We say it is not so simple as "within our control" or "not." We say that all control is limited, no mastery absolute as this binary opposition implies. We say that much in our lives is very difficult to control -- our money, our rank in society, our reputation in the eyes of others, whether we are healthy or sick, whether we live or die. So what? This lack of control is equally limited. We can save our money or squander it. We can clamber up the social ladder by publishing a few books and preaching from a homemade pulpit, or we can give away our worldly goods and live as beggars. We can make reputations for ourselves as writers, or we can ruin them with irrational rants. We can respect the flesh and reap the benefits, or we can fail to tend its needs and suffer when it rebels. And at the end of the day, the very end of it, we can fight for survival against all odds or put a gun in our mouth and pull the trigger. This is autonomy. This is agency. This is what it is to be a human being.

All of these "externals" we can and do influence directly as much as indirectly. There's no guarantee that our influence will be successful, no, but this is only to say that control is limited, not absolute. We manage these things. We manipulate these things. We push and prod and coax and cajole, and the mulish world does some of what we want it to, a lot that we don't. Sometimes it responds to our carrots and sticks. Sometimes it kicks for no apparent reason. So what? If we cannot master stubborn reality, those of us who are not fools or madmen have learned to deal with this. Only a fool would expect the world to answer his every whim, to make him rich and powerful, adored and athletic, make him live forever and ever amen. Only a madman would think that because he cannot master the world absolutely he has no power over it at all, no foot to kick a stone from here to there, no hands to build a wall or tear it down, no voice to ask for help or offer it.

What we do have fairly good "control" over, for the most part and in a certain sense, is our flesh. We control that foot, that hand, that voice. Although "control" is a somewhat silly term, given that we are that foot, that hand, even to some extent -- as far as others concerned -- that voice. We don't order the foot to kick the stone. We kick the stone with the foot that is part of us. So too with our passion and reason. We do not command those kinaesthetic sensations we call affect, those which take objects or those which don't, our joy and sorrow, fear and anger, disgust and surprise. We are those sensations. We are the bristling hackles and the belly laughs, the butterflies in our tummies and the scrunching in our balls, the pride in our puffed chests and the anger in our grinding teeth. These sensations are not insurgent natives of some dark city, the Sodom of the flesh, which we occupy as overlords, stride through as angels. The Sodom of the flesh has no Emperor, only citizens. And Sodom is as much the citizens as the stone.

We are also the more recognised five senses, those that are focused outward -- sight, sound, smell, taste, touch. A living thing, a self, is a great installation artwork of a sculpture of sensations, modelled as a collage in multiple mediums, multiple dimensions. We are our experiences and the memories we make of them, the notions we articulate in the recombination of these things, that which we call imagination. We are our passions and our reason. These are not seated in the flesh as some driver in a car, controlling it, but are rather the dynamics of it, like the currents and eddies in an ocean. A living thing, a self, is a homeostatic system, a system constantly being disrupted by exterior forces and internal requirements for refueling and maintenance, constantly seeking to stabilise itself, to return to equilibrium, but also relishing the instability -- because that tension is life.

To paraphrase Heraclitus, what is in conflict actually is consensus, in a harmony of opposites, of tensions.

To say that "we" can -- never mind must -- control "our passions" is to say that there is a sentient self distinct from the very basis of sentience, to believe in some aetheric ghost-in-the-machine, some supernatural spirit of a mech-warrior pulling levers, pressing buttons, flicking switches, turning dials to make the meat-robot lumber from here to there. The reasoning of the Stoics was based on exactly such a belief: that the universe was made of two types of substance: the passive substance we call matter; and Fate or Logos as an aetheric substance that is active in it, governs it, makes it a dance a merry jig to the tune it calls. An aetheric substance in the form of a "soul" when it comes to humans. Referencing the Stoics is not therefore, as far as the Elders of Sodom are concerned, a good foundation for an argument that one's views were born of atheistic rationalism rather than religious hokum. Except...

Except perhaps in so far as this belief is not actually uncommon even among atheist rationalists -- or at least pseudo-rationalists, those who, failing to think through their supposed rationalism, fall back on a Cartesian mind/body dichotomy which is ultimately indistinguishable from that of spirit and flesh. Confusing sentience and sapience, awareness and intellect, they schism the self, imagine reason as the pilot of this intransigent meat-robot, this beast of a machine with its wayward impulses that must be reined in, restrained and redirected, repressed. For all its claims to atheism and rationalism, this pilot and puppet-master is the same metaphysical conceit as the soul, Stoic or Catholic. It is the mind as a daimon inhabiting an unwilling host. It is the intellect, the will, as an Emperor of Ectoplasm, enthroned in the kingdom of the skull. This is the sovereignty of reason you would have our passions subject to. Not that you really support this with an actual case that this is How It Must Be.

Unlike the brute beasts, a man can train and domesticate his passions to serve his reason rather than his appetite. I do not see the need to dwell further on this point: the literature and philosophy of all mankind through all history dwells primarily on the human condition, of which the tension between these three parts of the mind is the primary reality. A skeptic unconvinced of this point is directed toward those writings.

The Elders of Sodom do not see much reason to take seriously a metaphor of passions as beasts that reason must "train and domesticate," especially one offered with no argument, simply a grandiose but empty gesture at "the literature and philosophy of all mankind through all history" in a banality that this discourse deals with the human condition, and a blank assertion that reason, passion and appetite are the "primary reality" of that human condition. This is not philosophy. It's a half-arsed argument by analogy that nods in the direction of an appeal to authority. It is lazy even as sophistry. But on this premise we get another:

That man has a duty to so domesticate his passions to serve his reason we can deduce from the raw fact that the appetites are a multitude of contradictory desires, as easily able to be inconsistent with surrounding facts of reality as consistent. If I desire to keep my cake and eat it too, the reason must arbitrate which desire shall prevail, since both cannot. If I desire to eat the moon, the reason must put aside that desire, since reality will not comply.

The Elders of Sodom hold to a philosophy we consider not only more plausible than your meat-robot and Emperor of Everything, after a few thousand years of thinking about it, but fundamentally more sane. Those "wayward" impulses are, as far as we're concerned, in a healthy individual, simply signals of the system's requirements -- to fight a threat, to feed a hunger, to know that it is alive by living life to the full. Even where these impulses are reckless and potentially harmful to oneself or others, in a healthy individual they usually find a natural balance -- because this is precisely what they are evolved to do. Empathy and fear act against aggressive urges. We stop eating when we're sated, or else we suffer for it. Artificial highs lead to less-than-pleasant come-downs. If we have contradictory passions -- like anger and empathy in the face of a dangerous lunatic -- the arbitration of "reason", as often as not, is simply the recognition that one outweighs the other, the facility of one to counteract the other even, to restore balance. This is not a matter of duty, but of sanity. Of how we work.

This sort of balance of affects in the aim of functioning as a social human being is pretty much the definition of mental health, whereas pathologies are pretty much defined by how that homeostatic system goes wrong, in vicious cycles of bad affect-logic that render one socially dysfunctional. It seems fairly obvious to the Elders of Sodom that functioning as a healthy and mature human being is not a matter of mastering the "base" passions, but rather of recognising those passions that guide us away from dysfunctional, unhealthy, immature behaviour, of allowing them to develop naturally -- as empathy, for example, is wont to do when we treat others with respect and they reciprocate -- of cultivating the logic of affect itself. In a healthy individual, there is little need to master one's hunger. Where someone does feel they have to exercise their reason to master hunger -- even if it isn't for the moon -- this would hardly seem an indication of mental health. With eating disorders like anorexia, in fact, the control of food intake, the denial of hunger, is the very manifestation of mental unhealth. A pathological need for control seems to be a large part of the underlying problem in such conditions. An unreasonable insistence on the need for control, indeed, generally strikes us as cause for concern, for that reason as much as any.

This sundering of the self into "base" passions and "noble" reason may crudely reflect actual internal relationships (c.f. id and superego,) but any argument for its most hierarchised extremity -- any argument that only the Emperor of Ectoplasm is capable of maintaining order by strictly controlling the otherwise "uncontrollable" meat-robot, any argument that loss of this authoritarian "self-control" would therefore have dire consequences as the meat-robot ran amok, acting on every wayward impulse -- is an argument for a pathologically neurotic mindset. It's an argument for a slave/master dynamic between passion and reason which is profoundly dysfunctional in practice. In its demonisation of our passions as essentially savage brutes to be broken and ruled over with discipline and denial -- which is to say repressed -- it is more likely to cause disorder than order. It is perhaps the classic vicious cycle of bad affect-logic. The greater the repression, the more focus is put on an ocassional whim, the more import it is ascribed, the more it becomes a locus of insecurity, the more obsessively we worry about it, the more the "downward" pressure of repression comes to be perceived as an "upward" pressure for release, the more the impulse becomes a compulsion, the more the sense of it being a compulsion disturbs us, the more we seek to repress it. And so on.

Any argument that reason must master passion is dubious at the best of times in terms of its effects as a philosophy. Given the vicious cycle of neurosis associated with this schisming of self, this setting of reason and passion at odds with each other, the more committedly the argument is voiced, the more dubious we might well be in terms of its causes. Which is to say, the more it comes to look like a symptom of pathology rather than an argument for it. It is certainly, as far as the Elders of Sodom are concerned, an ethical retardation, as becomes obvious when that argument defines virtue and vice so simplistically in terms of control and lack of control.

From this we can conclude that, even from a merely utilitarian motive of arranging our desires so as to satisfy them in the greatest number, or by the highest priority, or in the most efficient fashion possible, self-control is a necessary, indeed, an inescapable duty of any human being. Since this self-control cannot be effectuated by an instant effort of will, or even by a shallow-rooted and momentary conviction, it must be pursued by a recurring habit. This habit is called virtue, and the success of this habituation is also called virtue. The absence of virtue, i.e. self-indulgence, is called vice.

This is simply a puerile reduction of ethical judgement to an "inescapable duty" (in a bold leap across a void of unreason from "utilitarian motive", no less,) to abide by self-imposed limits that must not be transgressed. Why? Because transgression is vice, because we must control our passions, because vice is self-indulgence, because passion can only be controlled by reason, because reason is control, because control is virtue. It is the self-sustaining moralistic "law and order" mentality of a child, but entrenched into absolutism. We only have to compare Aristotle's almost equally simple ethics -- in which virtue is seen as a learned tendency to have appropriate feelings as a matter of disposition, a capacity to find the mean between two vices of (situationally) inappropriate excess or deficiency -- to see something infinitely subtler and more flexible, more elegant and more intelligent, more ethical simply because it is more sophisticated.

It's also the sort of ethics that's highly applicable when it comes to, for example, finding an appropriate emotional register when one decides to make an argument against, for example, a television network's response to criticism of its representation of homosexuality. It's the sort of ethics that leads one to find the virtuous mean between two vices rather than to, for example, surrender to the vice of excess disgust, excess anger, excess self-righteousness, to surrender to a viciousness that is not wrong because it is self-indulgence but because it is entirely inappropriate, It is the sort of ethics that also leads one to find the virtuous mean of an appropriate emotional register when one postures contrition, rather than to surrender to the vice of deficiency with caveats, self-justifications, misdirections, denials, refusals, retractions and the self-righteousness of one who sees himself as pious martyr but still behaves as ethical imbecile. It is the sort of ethics that does not undermine a purported apology with weaseling excuses that those one has behaved viciously to are "thin-skinned", that any hurt they feel is "self-inflicted". It is the sort of ethics that does not offer an olive branch with one hand and a digitus impudicus with the other.

Still, the Elders of Sodom happily accept that olive branch. We do however kiss this Christian symbol and, with our heathen sodomitic magic, transform it to our own symbolic wood, to a branch of a fig tree carved by the hand of Dionysus to fulfill his oath to Prosymnus. Since you are familiar with "the literature and philosophy of all mankind through all history," no doubt you will know exactly what that oath was and how it was fulfilled. If we only thought you could take it in good humour, accepting it as the symbol of virtuous action that it is, a symbol of of an act performed because an oath had been given, we would offer that fig-wood carving to you gladly. Instead, for now, we will simply treat your sophistry with the level of contempt we deem appropriate as we stand our ground and say, no, Mr Wright, your pseudo-Stoic notions may not be a product of your Catholicism (though we, the Elders of Sodom, you should note, never said they were,) but this remains an infantile morality founded on a dichotomy that is religious whether one calls it mind and body or spirit and flesh, reason and passion or chastity and temptation. Or, for that matter, virtue and vice. Virtue and vice? As far as we're concerned, you quite literally don't know the meaning of the terms.

If and when you do -- and we strongly suggest ditching the Stoics and brushing up on your Aristotle as a starting point towards that goal -- rest assured that we will happily return to you your olive branch, in its fig-tree carving form, to do with as thou wilt.

In the meantime, you can be sure we'll make good use of it, in line with the spirit in which it was given.

Yours sincerely,

The Elders of Sodom

Scribed by THE.... Sodomite Hal Duncan!!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Outer Alliance + The Turing Petition

I actually mentioned these in the comments to the last post, because they're clearly pertinent there, but both are also clearly worthy of being posted up here in an entry in their own right.

So, first off, we have The Outer Alliance, a new organisation set up with the aim of "education, support, and celebration of LGBT contributions in SF/F writing."

To quote from the main page of the blog:

Who is invited into the Outer Alliance? Anyone who supports the community’s tenets and is committed to engaging in intelligent discussion about LGBT issues in SF/F. This is a group founded in the belief that the best course against bigotry and discrimination is by rising above it, not stooping down to it.

This group is open to all writers (professionals and fledgelings alike) of SF/F (speculative, horror, paranormal, etc)–and their friends–of any inclination.

Obviously, I've signed up myself and encourage yez all to do the same, and to spread the word. I endorse this wholeheartedly.

Secondly, by way of Cheryl Morgan, I found out today about a petition asking the UK government to issue an apology for the persecution of Alan Turing that lead to his eventual suicide. If you're a UK citizen, again I encourage yez to go add your voice in the memory of a man who kind of classifies as a fricking war hero, as far as I'm concerned. Yes, apologies are symbolic, but sometimes symbols are important.

Friday, August 14, 2009

An Open Letter to John C. Wright

Dear John C. Wright,

We, the Elders of Sodom, read with interest your recent diatribe on the moral decay of society, as manifest in the SyFy Channel's (most welcome) response to our criticism with regards to representing gay characters. We clearly differ from you in our response, in our celebration (as opposed to condemnation) of Mark Swift's expression of disappointment that we marked SyFy with an F for Frowny Face, his assurance that the company was trying and would try harder to represent homosexuality in a way that better reflects our presence in society. We must admit to feeling somewhat saddened that you react to his statement with such antipathy and with terms such as "homosex." This is hardly, we think, the stuff of civilised discourse.

So we are writing this open letter to yourself, in the hope that you will appreciate, if nothing else, the time and effort taken in the purchase and provision of an evidential indication -- which is to say, in buying you a fucking clue. We hold out little hope of persuading you that we are not intent on the destruction of all that is good and decent, or of salve your concerns with the New World Order and the evils of the Homosexual Agenda, but we do think it wise to address some of your arguments, such that they are, if only because such rhetoric should not, we think, be met with silence. To that end, we will go into more detail presently as to why we find you alternately objectionable and risible, but for the moment we can boil the basics of this correspondance down to a very simple message:

Cut the crap.

I say this not in the "shut the fuck up" sense, but rather in the "discard the tosh and balderdash" sense. What do I mean by "crap" here then? What tosh and balderdash am I referring to?

Well, let's start with the assumptions that will likely lead many to not respond with anything remotely resembling the rational answers you claim you want. If you want your questions to be taken seriously then you would do well to start by asking them without the arrant nonsense of paranoid fantasies in which the SyFy Channel has "recoiled in craven fear and trembling" before the intimidatory might of GLAAD's "homosex activists" (aka the Elders of Sodom, Media Division.) You would do well to start with the premise that the head of the SyFy Channel's public commitment to not simply presenting more homosexuality but to presenting it as a non-issue might actually be born of a genuine belief that this is an ethical thing to do.

We're sure you're aware that other people can and do have different opinions. You may reject the validity of those opinions, but it would hardly seem rational to reject their existence. Actually, come to think of it, you don't actually seem that rational, so maybe our conviction is unwarranted. Let us assure you then: we, the Elders of Sodom do have those opinions, trust me, and many within our ranks hold such opinions not because they are themselves homosexual, (we are open to all and sundry, welcoming even to the Brethren of Breeders,) but simply because they have a trait we refer to as "empathy." The ethics we hold to among the Elders of Sodom is, generally speaking, based primarily on this "empathy," and therefore rejects homophobia for the same reasons it rejects racism, misogyny, and all other forms of prejudice.

This is how it actually is, Mr Wright. People do actually disagree with you. Not just the actual sodomites like myself, but the Sapphic Sisterhood, the Hamite Alliance, the League of Heathens and Infidels, Atheists Anonymous, a whole panoply of progressive thinkers, aligned and unaligned, to whom your rant reads as the ethically repugnant ravings of a sociopath, given that it has so little concern for aforesaid "empathy". Let me repeat that, Mr Wright. People do actually disagree with you. Not because they're faggots who like the homosex. Not because they've been cowed into submission by the faggots who like the homosex. But because they see the faggots who like the homosex as human beings deserving of empathy, see the abjection of them as profoundly unethical -- stupid and cruel to the point of socially dysfunctional. You do get this, right? Surely you understand that Mark Stern might well be one of us.

Or perhaps not. To be fair, you do not have to assume that Stern is sincere; that's not what I'm saying. It's simply that you do not know that he is not -- you not being a mind-reader and all -- so rather than portraying the SyFy Channel's statement as capitulation to the dread forces of political correctness, you might equally well assume that SyFy is offering up its alliegance to the Elders of Sodom of its own free will. Given that Stern's statement carries no tone of grudging and embittered surrender, no sense of one who feels himself under siege from the terrible wrath of the Elders of Sodom -- a threat clearly considered insignificant enough by CBS, NBC, A&E and TBS that they feel no need to comment let alone surrender -- you would do well to consider if perhaps (horror of horrors!) he is one of The Enemy. Not homosexual, I mean. Just someone who holds to an ethics based primarily on empathy.

But why should this matter? Why shouldn't you assume the worst case (i.e. most paranoid) scenario, that the Elders of Sodom are slowly crushing all resistance to their libertine manifesto, that now even the network executives quake in fear at the faggot's fierce roar? Well, partly it matters because the scenario you paint sounds frankly bizarre to many -- that the Elders of Sodom wield such awesome power as to bring Mark Stern grovelling to his knees in front of us, so in terror of our stark fist of political correctitude that he would go out of his way to feign support, he alone among his peers, while the rest see no need to even acknowledge our criticisms at all. This makes you sound rather extreme, you understand? Words like "homosex" and "abomination," the rhetoric of gaybashing high school jocks and murderous religious fundamentalists, do not help you present yourself as someone worthwhile opening a dialogue with.

You claim to want a rational answer, but your alarmist hysteria no more invites a rational response than some medieval anti-semite's froth-mouthed demand to know how good Christians can suffer the "Christ-killers" plotting in their midst, working wickedly in the shadows to exert their evil influence. You complain that you won't get a rational answer but you sound like one whose antipathy clouds all judgement, one whose revulsion is so extreme, their disgust so bound to fear and hate, that it manifests in outright delusion, in conspiracy theories of covert and overt ideological Powers-That-Be, Evil Forces aligned against all that is good and decent. Paranoid fantasies born of prejudice do not invite a rational response. How can society have come to this, you cry, this depth of depravity, this sink of iniquity, that the head of the SyFy Channel cowers before the Elders of Sodom? How can others not see the headlong plunge into filth that will result from this the headfirst dive into acceptance of incest, paedophilia, bestiality, necrophilia, fornication, wantonness, sin, sin, SIN?!

You seem incapable of conceiving that Stern could hold to a sincere ethical judgement that "homosex" is acceptable and that the absenting of it from television is a product of prejudice to be countered. You seem incapable of imagining that anyone could hold to this notion for any other reason than that they are a) wicked, b) gullible, or c) afraid to stand their ground. Those of us who hold exactly that opinion are more inclined, to be honest, to the fourth option: that you are d) nutso. This is not an accusation that you are nutso, mind, merely an explanation of how you come across, offered as basic advice in how to perform the amazing feat of understanding how other people think differently than you do. If you genuinely want to understand how society has come to this, how we can all hold to ethical opinions you consider utterly invalid, then you need to start by accepting that we do indeed hold to those ethical opinions. Honestly, you really want to try and understand why the following is just crazy talk to most of us:

By what logic is the sole and single standard of virtue in your world view an absolute devotion to vice?

Empathy is a devotion to vice? Really? Because that's what the Elders of Sodom base our principles on, my dear chap. It's written into our Protocols: the notion that other people are human beings and that their suffering is something to be minimised as best we can, just as we would seek to minimise our own suffering, not because we are forced to but because we care to; the notion that all particular principles and rule-of-thumb are open to interrogation as to how best we can achieve the optimum situation, because uncritical obedience is for children, not for rational adults; the notion that with maturity comes the responsibility to exercise our own faculties of reason as regards to ethics; the notion that this extends even to those core standards which seek to describe what that optimum situation actually is. This is the Grand Project that the Elders of Sodom are sworn to, have been sworn to throughout history.

The result of this historical project is actually a myriad of standards which may well seem confusing to someone looking for simplistic absolutes, but there's plenty of logic, even a coherent theme, in "the greatest good for the greatest number," or "from each according to ability, to each according to need," or "a healthy mind in a healthy body," or in many other axioms produced over the eons by those who have thrown themselves into the exercise of ethical faculties. There's plenty of logic to be argued over in all the resultant philosophy, but still we're all in the same boat as every one of our forefathers, the ultimate responsibility resting on us to navigate a way through all the arguments because we patently can't rely on being led by the ideologues who claim authority. They will only tell us to lynch black men who want to marry white women for their "miscegenation," behead rape victims for their "adultery," stone those who utter a certain string of phonemes for their "blasphemy," burn at the stake men who have sex with other men for their "sodomy". They will tell us to commit heinous atrocities in the name of all that's good and decent, but we must live with ourselves afterward, so we really have little option but to think about whether they really have a fucking clue about what's good and decent.

So, the Prime Directive of the Protocols of the Elders of Sodom is something akin to Kant's Categorical Imperative, with maybe a dash of Sartrean good faith: that the standard over-riding all others is that one must, with empathy in mind, use all one's ethical faculties in every situation in a passionate but reasoned attempt to make the best possible evaluation of the most ethical course of action. So, if someone insists that miscegenation is a crime against nature so "abhorrent" that we must join the lynch mob, no matter how many stand with him, no matter if we're the only person standing against him, we should nevertheless be ready, willing and able to challenge this self-righteous nonsense, to say, this is not a vice -- because this would be the more ethical response even if societal morés condemn us for refusing to conform. This is the logic underlying what is not "a sole and single standard of virtue," simply an overriding standard of autonomous thought as an ethical duty, a recognition that prejudice is not a legitimate basis for moral authority, a commitment to challenge such illegitimate "morality" as and when it expresses itself in unethical acts of abjection. We, the Elders of Sodom, find it quite saddening that you and others like you characterise this mode of ethical judgement as a "devotion to vice."

We're not suprised however.

By what logic is the sole and single sin the sin of having standards of virtue, what you call being intolerant?

It's quite easy to explain, actually. You see, where you consider it unconscionable that anyone should treat the "abomination" of homosexuality as "normal and natural and worthy of no comment," you appear to be demonstrating what Kohlberg described as a "law and order" mentality, a sub-stage within the "conventional" stage of moral development. Your understanding of ethics is bound to a framework of social/natural/divine order seen as good in and of itself, something to be defended, propagated. Within this, virtue is equated with normative behaviours while vice is equated with some (but not all) non-normative behaviours, which are viewed as transgressions, breaches of norms institutionalised into moral dicta. Actions which are "bad" are not seen as existentially unethical because they cause harm to individuals but rather as essentially immoral because they "disrupt" the social/natural/divine order. Oh noes.

You have apparently managed to rationalise this to yourself in terms of a pseudo-Stoic teleological sophistry in which every passion has a "final cause" -- an essential purpose -- such that action at odds with these essential purposes represents an immoral "disordering" of the appetites, an unacceptable misdirection from their natural/mandatory objects. You seem to think this is a sophisticated philosophy, but to the Elders of Sodom it appears risibly simplistic -- practically crude and ignorant in its systematisation of potential human behaviour into a set of axioms bearing little relation to reality, and all of these articulated in a one note modality of "must" and "must not," judging this action a virtue to be proud of, that one a vice to be ashamed of. This is a clunking, crunching mode of thought that lacks even the subtlety by which we might deem it mechanistic. It has all the complexity, flexibility and functionality of a broken light switch.

Most damningly, this mode of (un)ethical (un)reasoning is responsible for all manner of inequity and iniquity, since the ascription of "essential" and "perverted" purposes to actions is often pseudo-rational at best. This becomes obvious when that which is "abnormal" invokes a conditioned disgust response, an affect of pre-rational revulsion, the sort of profound and unconsidered (perhaps unconsiderable) abhorrence that leads to the action being vitriolically condemned as an "abomination". The strength of this irrational response reinforces commitment to the social/natural/divine order by opposition to that which deviates from it. Further, acting to "defend" the social/natural/divine order from the demonised (i.e. abjected) transgressor/transgression by, for example, instilling that same loathing in others generates a pride in this (self-)righteous action. Thus you have a feedback loop in which prejudice against those identifiable as deviant is validated by the very disgust that motivates it, and propagating that prejudice is validated by the pride that results. Pick an "abnormal" behaviour such as inter-racial marriage and we end up with a "moral" imperative against the "abomination" of "miscegenation."

Many do think in such terms -- hence the "conventional" label -- but the markers of deviance, the "abnormal" behaviours that become the subject of moral dicta, vary across cultures, geographically and historically. Even with a cursory glance at these variations the limitations of this mode of pseudo-ethical morality become obvious. Some cultures have lacked morés that condemned brother-sister incest or even the sexual abuse of parent-child incest (or for that matter extra-familial paedophilic abuse) while within living memory (or for that matter currently, within neo-fascist subcultures) some have made a "moral" issue of the deviation from societal norms that they refer to as "miscegenation", considering this as an "abomination" of a similar severity to that which you ascribe "homosex." What we have in those cultures that do not condemn the unconscionable abuses we'd class as incest and paedophilia is conventional morality failing to be ethical. What we have with (sub-)cultures that condemn miscegenation is morality being itself unconscionable, the unethical masquerading as the ethical, prejudice wearing a disguise of piety. It seems fairly obvious to most of us within the Elders of Sodom that such a system of thought is in and of itself rendered ethically dubious where it does not simply allow for but in fact is predisposed to result in such failings.

This is, incidentally, why we stress the importance of tolerance, why we are "willing to tolerate sexual perversion but not racism". The latter is patently unethical in its abjection of a group marked out by skin colour. The former -- when we're talking about homosexuality, rather than your bugaboos of incest, etc. -- is a variant behaviour which is used to mark out another group as deviants to be abjected by the unethical who justify their prejudice as morality. It is simply not the case that a "malfunction of love" is higher on our standard than a "malfunction of hate". We find the whole teleological sophistry of "final causes" which paints homosexuality as a "malfunction" ethically retarded, do not evaluate homosexuality or racism by these criteria but rather by their effects considered in light of empathy and reason. The power dynamics involved in the bugaboos of sexual perversion you associate with homosexuality render them a quite different matter when their quite different effects are considered in the same light.

You ask, "Is an irrational lust and longing to mimic the mating act with a sex with which one cannot mate, at its root, any more or less disconnected to reality than an irrational fear and hatred of a Negro?" (And how we would dearly love to hear how you pronounce that last word.) We say simply that sex is, as the bonobos know fine well, a physical communion with entirely rational social-bonding functionalities far beyond procreation, causing no intrinsic harm and consolidating empathic connections with others, (which also answers your question, "Why is this one vice singled out for awe and reverence and glorification?" -- because sex can be rather beautiful with a bit of talent and/or practice.) Meanwhile, irrational fear and hatred on the basis of skin colour severs such connections, blocks them where they might be made, and ultimately justifies some of the worst atrocities ever perpetrated in the history of humanity.

You ask, " Why is it that the lack of self control in sexual matters, where self control is paramount, is held to be immaculate and beyond reproach, whereas the lack of self-control when it comes to something trivial smoking tobacco [sic] is scorned?" The simple answer is, Mr Wright, that you are speaking gibberish here. The issue is not self-control but societal control, moral dicta imposed by ethical retards. Your notion that self-control is paramount in sexual matters is comprehensible to the Elders of Sodom only as the neurosis of a disturbed individual whose sexual desire is bound to an abusive drive to subjugate, to rape men or women, children, animals or corpses. We can think of little reason to place a primary stress on self-control other than where there is some abusive tendency to be curbed. When it comes to sexual matters, the Elders of Sodom, (contrary to certain propaganda texts,) feel no need to control sociopathic urges that we don't feel, and therefore generally consider the pleasuring of one's partner paramount. The lack of self-control is not held to be immaculate and beyond reproach; rather a certain balance of restraint and abandon is, we consider, usually quite important in achieving our primary purpose of an intense physical communion. The comparison to smoking seems quite absurd to us, as sexual addiction is an entirely different matter, occuring regardless of orientation, and something to be treated rather than scorned.

In short, the Elders of Sodom simply do not think as you do, and consider your opinions on this matter if not pathological then at very least irrational in the most fundamental way. Your concern with what is "normal," what is "natural," is, as far as we're concerned barely logical never mind ethical. Let us clarify:

Whatever particular set of principles we adopt or construct for ourselves in the "post-conventional" stage of moral development, to us homosexuality is not "normal" as far as percentages go, but is entirely "normal" for that percentage who identify as homosexual, just as ginger hair is "normal" for those with ginger hair (assuming they don't dye it regularly such that their "normal" colour is, say, mauve.) The Elders of Sodom don't care. Normality is utterly irrelevant in an ethics based largely on empathy and reason rather than conformity to an imagined social/natural/divine order. As far as the Elders of Sodom are concerned whether our sexual behaviour is normal or not is neither here nor there, just as our hair colour is. It is none of your business, Mr Wright.

Aware of the observed facts of homosexual behaviours across the animal kingdom, the Elders of Sodom also know that homosexuality is entirely "natural" in the sense of "occuring within nature". It is simply somewhat less than usual as a behaviour pattern -- which doesn't matter a jot. Some will argue that one is born homosexual, the deviance no more "unnatural" than ginger hair, but some of us see no need to defend homosexuality on that basis. Even if one becomes homosexual through a gradual development of sexual tastes, the deviance is no more "unnatural" than if one develops a taste for bletted medlars and a dislike for apples. It is no more nor less than a variance of preferences. And to repeat myself: this is none of your business, Mr Wright.

A third option is that homosexuality is actually a combination of birth and choice, predisposition and conscious affirmation. In this case the deviance is no more "unnatural" than if one is born into an ethnically Jewish but non-practicing family, if one grows up with enough exposure to the beliefs and traditions of Judaism to incite a religious interest, if one decides to become a Rabbi and refuses point-blank to convert when the Christians come knocking at one's door, swords drawn, insisting that the denial of Jesus Christ is a heinous sin in the eyes of God and that one will be damned for all eternity if one does not abjure one's wicked ways. Whatever the Rabbi's reasons for being a Rabbi, he is quite entitled to tell the Christians where to stick those swords. On behalf of the Elders of Sodom, I say again: this is none of your business, Mr Wright.

But the above is not offered as a defense of homosexuality. We Elders of Sodom feel no need to justify our existence in the face of a moral dictum we consider as absurd and illegitimate as a racial-purist's self-righteous condemnation of "miscegenation" or an anti-semite's pious fervour in the glorious necessity of a pogrom. Thankfully, you are a marginal voice, so we consider you a nuisance at most, an irrelevant reactionary clinging to an obsolete moral paradigm even as society moves on, as the general populace sloughs itself of the prejudices of previous generations. We have no desire to waste our time trying to lead you out of the ethical backwater of your moralistic nonsense. This letter is aimed simply at explaining to you exactly how and why you find yourselves so at odds with the rest of society, in line with your explicit request:

I'd like someone, anyone, to explain to me how my culture reached a position where a public entertainment company can be criticized for failing to contribute to the moral decay of the land, and that the criticism would be taken seriously, and the company would cringe and promise to do better.

Let's break this down.

1. "how my culture" -- The culture is not yours. It belongs to none, is shaped by all, reshaped constantly in the harmonies and conflicts of differing ethics. Historically, by a process of abjection, various groups identifed by markers of deviance have been rendered scapegoat figures, disenfranchised. The Elders of Sodom (like many other such groups) are now in the process of reclaiming our place within it, our role as equals, as something other than symbolic whipping boys, as something other than the abject figures of abhorrence you would have us be. As human beings. In many respects, we have already reclaimed this humanity. In many respects, Mark Swift's statement is an acknowledgement of that fact, an acknowledgement that it is our culture every bit as much as it is yours. You resent this, are horrified by it. We consider this an ethical deficiency on your part.

2. "reached a position" -- Where reactionaries like yourself see the social/natural/divine order as an essential truth to be defended, a law inscribed in stone tablets that must never be questioned, never challenged, where you imagine it a virtue to instill a zealous belief in the social/natural/divine order in its own right, the Elders of Sodom recognise that the moral dicta that construct it are all too often rooted in base prejudice, that at the heart of "miscegenation" and various other such "crimes against nature" there is little more rationale than disgust, fear and hate perpetuated by the self-righteous pride of any ideologue who succeeds in propagating the moral orthodoxy. We recognise that many moral dicta -- such as that which classes "miscegenation" an unpardonable transgression of How Things Are Meant To Be -- must be overthrown as unreasonable and cruel to the point of unethical. So we pressure for change. And because we offer rational ethics based on empathy, in place of infantile moralistic nonsense, we can and do achieve that change. Other people are generally less ethically deficient than you.

3. "a public entertainment company can be criticized for failing" -- The change is slow but steady, with institutions often lagging behind the public, clinging on to dicta of the old moral orthodoxy even when the majority have ceased to believe that there's anything remotely "wrong" about, for example, inter-racial marriage. If they tend to "craven fear and trembling" in any regard, it is in the worry that by daring to, say, present a character like Gaeta as openly homosexual on mainstream television, they will potentially alienate a conservative audience who still abjects gays and desires them absented from the media (and ultimately reality). As younger generations slough their prejudices, join the Elders of Sodom and become more open about their rejection of unjust morés, attention moves to the institutions that are palpably lagging behind the time, sacrificing ethics in order to pander to a prejudice-ridden minority of infantile moralists. Even these institutions are less ethically deficient than you, it would appear; even the ones that don't respond favourably to such criticism have the good grace not to mouth off with terms like "homosex" and "abomination."

4. "to contribute to the moral decay of the land" -- This is not moral decay, but ethical growth. Our association of the term "infantile" with morés is not a crude insult, but a quite sincere criticism of the "law and order" mentality as an immature mode of ethical judgement. The reactionary conservatism that founds itself on a notion of social/natural/divine order is resistant, in its essentialism and absolutism, not just to any attempt to redefine it, but to any attempt to critique it. (Since the social/natural/divine order is seen as good in and of itself, any challenge to its injustices is seen as bad.) It cannot and will not contemplate the possibility that it is wrong and so will act to shut down all debate, internal as well as external. Where this moralistic mindset acts on the internal debate of one's rational faculties it is quite literally an ethical retardation. The horror you feel at "moral decay" is, to the Elders of Sodom, quite self-evidentally an affective defense mechanism, designed to function as a barrier to anything that might "corrode" your convictions. Compare "retard" as used in the term "flame-retardant". This moralistic mindset, Mr Wright, is "ethics-retardant". This is why you are at odds with the rest of us, the source of your ethical deficiency.

5. "and that the criticism would be taken seriously" -- The ethical inadequacies of such a mode of thinking become quite evident in such an attitude, when you shrug off any reason to consider the ramifications of not taking such a criticism seriously. Which is to say, where any wide-spread moral dictum is called into question, one may not agree with the criticism, may even consider the problem it is asserting non-existent; it is, however, only the most rudimentary of ethical judgements to consider that one may be wrong about the reality and severity of the problem and that one should therefore seek to establish the reality and severity of the problem. This sort of dismissal is, as far as the Elders of Sodom are concerned, an abrogation of ethical judgement at the most basic level. Your deficiency does not just result in bad ethics, Mr Wright. It is unethical in and of itself.

6. "and the company would cringe and promise to do better" -- or rather, as we have suggested above and as they themselves profess, the company would accept that they have failed to live up to the standards which they recognise as ethical imperatives, be disappointed at the criticism because they do in fact respect the homosexuals you abject and abhor, and offer a commitment to improve their performance, one that they will hopefully follow through on precisely because they are, at heart, fully paid-up members of the Elders of Sodom. Because they are ethical human beings, Mr Wright. Unlike some.

This is how it happens. This is how society dismantles prejudice even where it is institutionalised in deeply conventional moral dicta. People interrogate those dicta, applying empathy and reason, and if they do it loud enough and long enough, well, another person might join in. Of course, to paraphrase Arlo Guthrie, then people may just call them faggots and not take them seriously. But if three people do it -- can you imagine, three people walking in and saying, this dictum is a pile of horseshit, singing it in harmony -- why, then we got ourselves a movement!

Is this making sense yet? Do you now understand the nature of the "crap" we are politely requesting you to cut, the particular tosh and balderdash we think you really ought to discard if you have any honest concern whatsoever with rational arguments? We very much doubt it. But still, let us make one last attempt to answer your questions as regards how such a terrible state affairs can come to pass as the head of a television network agreeing with an abjected minority that their under-representation is a problem worth tackling.

Someone explain to me by what series of events persons with serious sexual-psychological malfunctions would somehow be awarded the status of moral arbiters, something like priests and confessors and sages -- except that the passkey to being a guardian of public conscience in our age is the absence of moral value, not the presence.

Event 1: You term homosexuality a "sexual-psychological malfunction" that is "serious", assuming the authority of a moral arbiter, but exhibiting all the nous and compassion of Fred Phelps. You reach for the passkey, desiring to be a guardian of public conscience in our age, spouting your rhetoric of moral value and demonstrating the complete absence of any truly ethical value. All you have is an illegitimate dictum against homosexuality, spewed in vitriol indistinguishable from that of a Westboro Baptist.

Event 2: We say homosexuality is a variant sexuality which does no intrinsic harm to the consenting adults that practice it or anyone else outwith their relationship, rejecting in no uncertain terms your arrant presumption that you have the privilege to impose your morés on us -- or anyone else, for that matter -- and criticising your judgementalism as ethically retarded. We reject all your "passkey" piffle, point to the bankruptcy of your "moral value," and contend that the presence of even the most basic skills of ethical evaluation is vastly preferable to your line of crap.

Event 3, 4, 5...N: People agree with us.

We do hope this explanation has been of some use to you, but we rather doubt it to be honest. Such is life.

Yours sincerely,

The Elders of Sodom

Scribed by THE.... Sodomite Hal Duncan!!