Notes from New Sodom

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

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Performative Morality

“Personally, I don’t believe that you can live an openly homosexual lifestyle, or an openly, like premarital sex between heterosexuals. If you’re openly living that type of lifestyle, then the Bible says you will know them by their fruits. It says that, you know, that’s a sin. If you’re openly living in unrepentant sin, whatever it may be, not just homosexuality, whatever it maybe, I believe that’s walking in open rebellion to God, and to Jesus Christ.”
-- Chris Broussard


Openly Living

It's telling that Broussard uses "openly" four times in his sour-minded cavilling at Jason Collins, the first out gay player active in the NBA--in pro sports in general in the US. It's telling that Broussard generalises to any "unrepentant sin, whatever it may be," in order to construct an additional sinfulness common to all sins committed thus, all sins committed openly. For Broussard there may be a sin of sodomy, and a sin of greed, and a sin of sneering at puppies, and a sin of saying "Jehovah" five times while looking in a mirror--or whatever--but what he chooses to focus on is not these specifics but the over-and-above-that sin of "open rebellion." Not even rebellion per se, but open rebellion.

Walking in Open Rebellion

To stride out of the closet! Not just to cower inside it, hidden, but to stride out, to be seen! This is the sin of an "insult to God" performed non-verbally, in gesture rather than in word. It's body language blasphemy. For a Broussard, it's not just the action in and of itself that is damnable; rather the more objectionable wrongness lies in the perception of that action by the moral authority, the outrage experienced by that moral authority to see its authority defied. It is the overtness of the challenge to moral authority Broussard bridles at in priggish sanctimony, whatever the sin, great or small, "whatever it may be, not just homosexuality, whatever it maybe." A Broussard does not focus on the deed performed behind a closed door, but on the audacity of stepping out afterwards, wearing one's sin without shame.

Whatever It May Be

"Masturbation or murder?" one might ask. "Whatever," a Broussard will say, the differences of deeds swept from his regard, the deeds themselves erased in equivalence. Such details do not matter in the performative morality of those for whom ethical judgement is abrogated to the eye of the allotted arbiter(s). It's not like they understand the details, exactly why this is forbidden and that required--how can they, having abrogated ethical judgement? (Hence their acceptance of even the most absurd and arbitrary--even patently unjust--injunction.) It's only logical then that the imperative they focus on is not this or that proscription or prescription of this or that activity as set out in their patchwork rulebook, but the one clear and indisputable axiom, the prime directive that serves as linchpin to the rulebook itself: not to insult the arbiter with defiance. With that sin, whatever it may be, it is the conspicuousness that is for Broussard the locus of offense.

By Their Fruits

Note how Broussard twists the Biblical stance that the sinner will be apparent in the consequences of their actions. The idea that "you will know them by their fruits" is hardly difficult to comprehend. It's simplistic as ethics, but that by definition makes it simple: look to the practical impact of a person's behaviour, to the products of their attitude and beliefs, and where that impact is self-evidently negative, well, clearly that person's attitude and beliefs are flawed, fraught with the error of hamartia, the stumbling block of a skandalon--these the original Greek terms of the Gospels. For Broussard, this becomes: if you can look at them and see that they're doing something forbidden, that is a sin--the very fact that you can see them, "you know, that's a sin." His articulation is barely coherent, but what follows makes it clear. For Broussard, the "fruits" are not the negative consequences of an ethical failing, only the signifiers put out on display.

That Type of Lifestyle

It is an expedient blinder, this body language blasphemy, this sin of refusing to perform a morality one does not understand. Since a Broussard, having abrogated ethical judgement, always already does not understand the morality to be performed, a Broussard is bound to fail in following that inherently contradictory rulebook. But always already understanding this one thing--that above all else he must not openly defy morality--as long as a Broussard performs the correct "type of lifestyle" in that respect... well then, he is a good man in his faithful adherence, only a weak one. All specific sins are facilitated by this performative morality. As long as a Broussard is styling his life as pious in the performance of obedience, eschewing the overt display of defiance, he is at least not as damnable as the openly whatever.

In Unrepentant Sin

It is the Hypocrite's Gambit, this diversionary focus on the exterior, on the superfices of the lifestyle that enact propriety or impropriety. What is so convenient for a Broussard about performative morality is that the self-presentation serves as a shibboleth, a signifier of a baseline attitude either opposed to the Social Order or reverent of it. And dependent on this fundamental stance of impiety or piety, one's misdeeds become either characteristic or uncharacteristic. Even as the misdeeds of the openly sinful are seen as symptomatic of their impious defiance, that is to say, those of the hypocrite are cast as aberrations, fleeting failures of the essentially devout. If a Broussard surrenders to temptation, secretly and shamefully, still they can point to their willing spirit, to the profound piety that bedrocks their morality, their ardent fealty to the arbiter's authority; in weak flesh they may have failed, but they are not rebels, not "openly living in unrepentant sin." Not like that Collins character now flaunting the arbiter's axioms.

I Believe

This is what makes the Hypocrite's Gambit so effective, what makes a Broussard so secure in his folly: the performance is not aimed simply at deceiving the arbiter's gaze but at persuading the hypocrite himself of his own basic virtue. A Broussard could have sucked more cocks than Collins has ever seen in all his years in the locker rooms, and he'd likely still believe himself a better man because of his baseline attitude of unquestioning deference, every cringing twinge of shame paradoxically a proof of his righteousness. To stand tall in the performance of morality while crawling inside in abject self-mortification... this is exactly what the arbiter asks of us, as a Broussard understands it. Never mind what the Bible actually says about such self-delusions of propriety:

"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean. Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness."
--Mathew 23.25-28

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