We were told that the Left’s concern over gay marriage was about wanting to expand specific, concrete benefits entailed by the marriage certificate to homosexuals. Foremost amongst these benefits, at least as far as rhetoric was concerned, was hospital visitation rights. In his 2008 Presidential acceptance speech, Obama said: “I know there are differences on same-sex marriage, but surely we can agree that our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters deserve to visit the person they love in a hospital . . .”
To be perfectly clear, I do sympathize with this concern. No matter how you feel about post-modern gay and lesbian subcultures, denying them the right to see each other in the hospital is pointlessly cruel. And it has happened.
Bu if that was the primary motivation behind the push to institutionalize gay marriage, then why did we not hear more about HB 2730, a bill passed in Virginia in 2007 which expanded hospital visitation rights to everyone, allowing patients to identify anyone they’d like as next of kin? It’s not just that HB 2730 revealed that marriage was an unnecessary means to achieve the ends gay marriage advocates claimed to be motivated by. HB 2730 not only helped many heterosexuals at the same time that it helped gays and lesbians, it helped gays and lesbians with respect to hospital visitation rights more than gay marriage has. Why do I say that?
First, because gays and lesbians are more likely to move away from unsupportive families or cities and thus have no “next of kin” living near them; second, because lesbians and especially gays are much less likely to marry than heterosexuals. Thus, many heterosexuals and homosexuals still cannot allow the only “family” they have to visit them in the hospital; gay marriage improved this issue for only about one fifth of three percent of the American population (or about 0.7%, the percentage that is both gay and married). So there are still countless heterosexuals and countless homosexuals who would benefit from laws like HB 2730, for exactly the same reasons married homosexuals were supposed to have benefited from legally recognized gay marriage.
Now, tell me: has anyone heard the Left continue expressing any concern about hospital visitation rights now that formally recognized gay marriage has solved it for a fraction of a fraction of the populations that suffer because of it?
In fact, looking back, it is apparent that the ability to paint gay marriage as a necessary response to gays’ and lesbians’ inability to visit each other in hospitals was instrumental in pitching the idea to the American public.
And that makes me wonder: what if the left wasn’t interested in solving that issue, because it would take away one of gay marriage’s strongest selling points? If we solved the issue of hospital visitation, it would take away the left’s ability to portray gay marriage as a simple question of basic compassion and its critics as heartless. The justification for grandstanding moral posturing would disappear, and gay marriage would have even less popular appeal. What if the left was fine with allowing people to keep suffering in order to stop that from happening, to aid in the effort to push gay marriage through?
A whole hell of a lot of Leftist behavior suddenly makes a lot more sense if you assume that they are more interested in winning a perceptual war of symbols and imagery than they are in the issues they actually talk about.
Recall the Human Health Services mandate that required insurers to pay for birth control which took effect in 2012. All criticism of the policy was aggressively dismissed as “misogyny,” no matter how cogent or well-intended. For example, the Obama Administration claimed that by reducing unwanted pregnancies, the policy would lead to net budget savings — yet no one cared that not one of fifteen insurance companies polled agreed with that, while 40% did think that it would drive up costs by increasing pharmacy expenses. Never mind that women could already get a daily supply of birth control in the United States for less than $4 a month — and that by requiring that insurers pay full price for much more expensive name brand versions of the drugs, the contraceptive mandate actually represented a massive boon in profits for the pharmaceutical companies.
If you take away the theistic trappings behind it, the Natural Family Planning method of “contraception” advocated by Catholics is something any granola-crunching, patchouli-smelling sandal-wearer could have invented. It avoids toxic chemicals; it avoids tampering with the body’s endocrine system; it encourages getting in touch with, and following, the natural rhythms of the body. Since we now know how taking hormonal birth control can drastically affect long-term marital satisfaction by making women find unattractive men more attractive (until they stop taking it), moving women away from chemical and hormonal contraceptives would actually represent a significant improvement to womens’ health. But in 2012, fighting the efforts of a few religious organizations to defend their right to not be forced to pay for contraceptives that technically cause abortions (some of the contraceptives covered under the mandate worked by preventing fertilized embryos from implanting on the uterine wall) became one of the biggest, and loudest, domestic social issues of the year. Never mind that many of their employees would choose not to use these drugs in the first place; or that if the costs of hiring employees rose, as a 40% plurality of polled insurance companies expected, this would mean that many female employees would actually be thereby partially robbed of alternative forms of compensation for their labor which they might have preferred.
Besides all that, in 2015, Republicans even passed a bill that would increase womens’ access to cheap, over-the-counter birth control. And what was the Democrats’ response?
None of this makes a damn bit of sense if you assume that liberals are truly motivated by concerns about womens’ health and access to contraception and peoples’ ability to get the care they need in hospitals. But it suddenly makes perfect sense if you interpret the left as engaging in a war — not to concretely improve peoples’ lives in the real world — but over public control of symbols and imagery. “Gay marriage” was important to the left not as a means to the end of improving hospital visitations, but because formally recognizing the term “gay marriage” in federal law (“domestic partnership” wouldn’t have done it) was a victory over symbols and public perception — and talking about hospital visitation was just a means to the end of accomplishing that. Outrage was expressed over Republicans attempting to increase womens’ access to over-the-counter birth control not because of any supposed harms that would have come from doing so, but because Republicans couldn’t be seen doing something like this — it would have weakened the disingenuous “war on women” narrative that was so much more audible at the time.
It seems that we’re at it again with the fight over a so-called “transgender bathroom law” in North Carolina. As has been the case with many incidents of this type in recent years, symbol has overtaken reality to the point that very few people actually understand even the most basic dynamics behind these bills. First of all, it is not even correct to say that the original non-discrimination ordinance passed on February 22 in Charlotte was a “transgender” bathroom bill. What the actual text of the amendment said was this: “It shall be unlawful to deny a person, because of sex, the full and equal enjoyment of the . . . accommodations of a restaurant, hotel, or motel.” What this actually amounts to is in fact a mandate that all bathrooms in all public businesses be rendered 100% sex-neutral. This does not say that a man who now identifies as a woman should be allowed to enter the womens’ restroom, which is the picture most people seem to have in mind. It literally made it illegal to have a “womens’ restroom” or a “mens’ restroom” at all. And it made this demand on privately owned businesses.
In contrast, the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad bill that was passed by the state of North Carolina to override this ordinance allowed private business owners to make up their own minds and set whatever bathroom policies they wish, while for state bathrooms it actually did provide allowances for transgender individuals — for in state institutions, the bill requires one to enter the bathroom that corresponds to the sex listed on their ID, not the sex of their birth. That means a man who is anatomically, hormonally, and legally male would thus belong in the mens’ bathroom; but a man who had had surgery or hormone replacement therapy and legally changed his sex to female and therefore qualified as an actual “transwoman” would in fact belong in the womens’ bathroom. Few of the critics of the bill have paused long enough to even notice that point. Instead, they’re making videos that mock the idea that anyone would have to “show (their) ID to pee” . . .
But as an attempt at mockery of HB2, this really just shows how hysterical and histrionic these people truly are. Because we don’t put guards to check IDs outside of restrooms. In fact, that goes right to the crux of the whole issue: the critics of HB2 cannot point to a single incident of a transgender individual being thrown out of a bathroom, anywhere. The original ordinance passed in Charlotte to make public restrooms gender-neutral was not proposed as a response to so much as a single transgender person getting thrown out of one bathroom.
The critics of the bill have mocked and ridiculed the advocates’ concern that men could abuse women if allowed into womens’ restrooms, but whatever else you might say about this, there is objectively far more evidence that men abuse women in gender neutral bathrooms than there is for any epidemic of transgender individuals getting thrown out of bathrooms. The idea that people are policing bathrooms for transgender individuals is simply a complete and total hallucination. But in Chicago, a 33-year-old man choked an 8-year-old girl and attempted to molest her (luckily, witnesses stopped him); in Toronto, a male sexual predator claimed to be transgender in order to gain access to womens’ shelters, where he abused several women in a row; in Virginia, a man gained entry to womens’ bathrooms by dressing in drag, at which point he filmed two women and a five-year-old child; a similar incident took place in Los Angeles; and even if I stop at just these four examples, that’s already four more examples than any liberal will be able to find of any transgender individuals getting thrown out of any bathrooms by any businesses. Meanwhile, Bruce Springsteen and Maroon 5 canceled tours in North Carolina in protest — but kept Russia on their lists of appearances. Again, we can only interpret hypocrisies like these as coincidences for so long before patterns start to emerge that reveal what truly underlies and causes those hypocrisies to emerge.
By trying to make a major social issue out of “access” to restrooms when it is quite literally the case that no transgender people are being denied “access” to any restrooms in the first place in the same election season in which Donald Trump is gaining steam and surprising every mainstream observer — the Left has obviously overplayed their hand this time.
But we still have much to learn from their previous success. We can sperg out and say, “Here are the facts that show why the dominant narrative is false” all day long, but with that approach we’ll never capture more than the tiny percent of people who are high enough on need for cognition to be reachable by that method. Until we learn how to capture the public’s emotions and engage their imagination with our philosophy, we’ll never have a fighting chance, because other people will do a better job of engaging it with theirs. The meme war is a zero-sum game — and what we really need, far more than abstract refutations of dominant narratives, are counter-narratives that engage the same deep psychological needs.