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August 23, 2005

Too smart for their own good

The Volokh Conspiracy is a group blawg (i.e., law-related blog) composed mainly of right-leaning law professors.  Its founder (Eugene Volokh, a 1st Amendment, intellectual property, and cyberlaw specialist) is an acquaintance of mine.  It is one of the most widely-read blawgs of any political leaning, and is more or less required daily reading for those interested in the blawgosphere.  And despite its generally conservative bent, the posts are well written and at least thought provoking, if not always ultimately convincing (at least to me).

However, this series of posts strikes me as an excellent example of how intelligent conservatives are sometimes, frankly, the unwitting dupes of the foulest elements of the Republican party.  The subject is whether gay people attempt to "convert" others to become homosexuals.  The whole thing is quite long and riddled with more statistics than any sane person would want to read through.  But here's how I see it playing out in the greater scheme of things:

  • Nasty right-winger: "Gay people try to convert 'normal' people into becoming gay, and therefore we should ban them from being schoolteachers."
  • Normal human: "That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard - gay people don't try to 'convert' straight people into anything.  Gay people just want all people to be accepted and not discriminated against regardless of their sexual orientation."
  • Way-too-smart right-leaning law professor: "I have data to support the proposition that some people who have only had heterosexual relationships nonetheless harbor some homosexual tendencies, and it stands to reason that gay people might want to encourage such people to act on those tendencies, if only because logically it seems to follow that gay people would want people who are in fact either gay or at least bisexual to be more comfortable with their homosexual tendencies.  And, applying the normal meaning of the word 'convert,' it follows that gay people generally want to 'convert' (that is, to change the belief or practice of) people who previously only behaved heterosexually into a behavior pattern that includes some homosexual activity."
  • Normal person: "Huh?"
  • Nasty right-winger: "Aha, you see?  Mr. Smarty-Pants Law Professor agrees that gays are trying to convert decent 'normal' folk into homos, and he has the studies that prove it.  Therefore, the motion to ban gays from the school is hereby approved."
  • Way-too-smart right-leaning law professor: "No, no, that's not what I meant at all.  I was just trying to explain that ..."
  • Nasty right-winger: "Next item on the agenda, please."

Eugene Volokh is not by any stretch of the imagination anti-gay.  To the contrary, he favors gay marriage, and he is generally libertarian when it comes to issues of intimate behavior.  The problem is that these clever law profs seem to be somewhat naive about how the real world - and in particular the rabid wing of the party for which they presumably vote most of the time - works.  So let me spell it out for them.  It is not about truth.  It is not about accuracy.  It is not about fairness.  It is, rather, about deceptive marketing, and arguments like this are simply fodder for the deceptive marketing machine.  No one cares whether what Eugene says is accurate (maybe it is - I didn't have the patience to read through all the stats).  Simply by giving cover to the "conversion" nonsense, he has handed the wingnuts a gigantic gift.  It's like the so-called "debate" over intelligent design - the whole right-wing game is to create doubt through deceptive marketing, not to actually prove the unprovable (which is of course impossible).  By creating a debate over evolution vs. "intelligent design," the wingnuts have already won.  Same thing with gays trying to "convert" straights - by giving the silly "conversion" notion any credibility, the clever law profs unwittingly aid and abet the goal of deceptive marketing, of creating doubt where none should exist.

Posted by David at 11:00 PM in Law and Lawyers | Permalink


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It's seems like just an opportuniy to bring up old canards about homosexuality per se being a health risk. And in a sophisticated way, so that it's actually social acceptance of homosexuality that's dangerous--for your mildly bi-curious sixteen year-old son! As in, homophobia's bad and all that, but it could save your child from AIDS.

Posted by: worldcitizen | Aug 24, 2005 12:02:48 AM

Well put. Though I'd say Volokh's fundamental problem is not that he's saying something true without regard to how the fundies might misinterpret it. Rather it's that he's put forth a vary narrow notion of "conversion" that not only excludes unsavory connotations the rabid right trades in, but also doesn't correspond to what we might agree is the denotative issue at stake: whether people are more likely to be oriented toward same-sex desire through a) the non-stigmatized presence of openly gay people or b) the active efforts of gay people to expand their ranks. The case of latent gays or bisexuals seem to imply that the base orientation is there already.

Posted by: Chris | Aug 24, 2005 12:17:41 PM

Not-so-long-time/First-time ;-)

Very good post. I was surprised and disappointed by Volokh's laziness (intentional?) in use of "more dangerous" and "convert." He's usually one of the most precise non-linguists on the internets, and we get "being gay is 'more dangerous'" and the conversion crap, which I couldn't have said better than you did.

Could he really be so ignorant of the "real world" that he thinks his technical conclusions can exist in a vacuum? That's hard to believe. Then again, you point out that he's basically pro-gay-rights. I just can't figure it out.

Posted by: New_to_Somerville | Aug 24, 2005 12:26:25 PM

If you want to spend ypur time finding examples of crazy stuff from a small minority then your job will never end.
Homosexuals converting staright people is not accepted by any "legitamate Person"
On issues of race, sex, abortion, and many others, I think it is best to work with those in the bell curve and allow the extreme other side of the curve to be a mere pest. Always there, but who cares.
Forgewt about them. It is people like me you should be concentrating on in winning over the nuances of the issues, ( education without arrogance)

Posted by: The troll | Aug 24, 2005 12:54:39 PM

From all the available evidence, Prof. Volokh is not personally anti-gay. However, he is not "pro-gay" either. For example, while he has criticized the federal anti-gay marriage amendment on technical grounds he simultaneously rejects the notion of a fundamental civil right in favor of gay marriage -- preferring instead to put such rights up for a vote on a state-by-state basis. This makes him, arguably, about 90 percent objectively anti-gay marriage. And that's giving credit for civil unions and other less-than-equal bail outs.

Historically, many conservatives claimed that they were not racist when they opposed the Civil Rights Act. They just didn't like the process and thus refused to support the fight to guarantee equality for racial minorities. The fact that their arguments successfully delayed legal equality was of less concern to them than the far superior worry that majority rule would be undermined.

But wait: Even majority rule must yield to conservative ideology if the issue is sufficiently important. Prof. Volokh and most of his fellow blawgers are more likely to support a lawsuit to recognize a fundamental right to buy a gun or smoke tobacco than to support a lawsuit to recognize a fundamental right of gay equality.

Notwithstanding the scholarly merits of the arguments presented, it would seem that, sometimes, the putatively tongue-in-cheek "conspiracy" blawg functions dangerously close to the real thing.

Posted by: Kent | Aug 26, 2005 9:46:56 AM

I know this is anecdotal, but I'm gay, and I ALWAYS try and bring a hot guy over to the pink side, if you know what I mean.

Posted by: Frank Drackman | Sep 4, 2005 7:53:39 AM

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