Tuesday, 20 May 2008

The Lesbians And The Tories

Whilst driving home today I listened in to Radio 4's coverage of a discussion in the House of Commons over a bill that would require doctors in IVF clinics to consider the effect of raising a child without a father before signing off procedures upon single women or lesbians (how I‘d love to see how “consider“ is defined). Some of the arguments brought up (at least in the main by the Conservatives, although they have been a Labour MP in there just to prove they can be pricks too) were so shockingly poor, and are so often used by people with no skill at discussion, that I thought I’d while away some time smacking them around a bit.

The Quiet Man (who frankly isn't nearly quiet enough for my tastes: I won't be happy until he becomes known as The Man Who Agreed To Permanently Shut The Fuck Up) kicked off the idiocy by claiming it was "common sense" that a child who grows up without a father is more likely to get into trouble, a view apparently based upon "a huge amount of statistics". Now, I could point out how badly that statement needs to be backed up by some statistically significant studies (which I doubt even exist for children raised by lesbian couples, this being too new and too rare an idea to get together a proper sample and satisfactorily dissect it, I would imagine), but that isn't really my problem here. [1]

My problem is how the phrase "common sense" has crept in here. Common sense is the aggregation of basic knowledge about the world, and the experiences of ourselves and those we meet. Don't put your hand in that fire. Don't walk down a busy street with your umbrella open if it isn't raining. Think twice before placing your genitals inside a lion's jaws. There is some debate to be had as to what does and doesn't qualify as a nugget of common sense, but I would argue that it either has to come someone's experience (not necessarily your own; I've never tried to stop a roundabout with my leg, but I know not to try after Vomiting Mike gave it a go and just *detonated* his limb in the process), or arise from the most simplistic of logical progressions (I want my clothes to dry on the line, it's now raining, objects rained upon will not dry, I shall take the washing in). "Children raised by two mothers will be worse off somehow" isn't anywhere near the same thing. It is neither a common enough occurrence or (far, far more importantly) a simple enough act for common sense to be of any use. If I meet a man who has cut off his own arm with a chainsaw, I can add "don't chop off limbs with whirring blades" to my common sense repository (assuming I didn't have it in there already). If I meet someone who was raised by two women (which I never have, as far as I know, which is another nail in the coffin of IDS's argument), I can't tell how effective their rearing was. Even if they're a heroin-addicted racist bargain-bin-hooker with a sideline in animal cruelty and Islamofascist terrorism, all I can easily conclude is that this person is a) unfortunate, and b) a dick (the exact weighting of those two is liable to be a judgment call). Even if a corollary to the state of their upbringing was possible (and I see know reason to believe it would be, absent some fairly extensive psychological interrogation), it would be that this particular person ended up worse because of having two mothers. Claiming that meeting this person would make it "common sense" that such a family structure is a bad idea, statistically speaking, is a blatant nonsense. In fact, it's far easier to make the case that it genuinely is common sense that reducing a massively complex system to good or bad without any experience or knowledge of other's experience is ridiculous.

All this is an attempt to persuade people that the Tory's position is so self-evident that we really don't need to bother with anything as pointless as evidence (though he still felt the need to mention there was evidence, though not what it was, exactly).

Smith's argument was then "augmented" (in the sense that someone else said something equally breathtakingly stupid along similar lines) by a female MP whose name I didn’t recognise, who told those assembled that this was a vindication of those members of the public that believe that politicians are “out of touch”, because they were sat having an argument that the public already knew where they stood on (a shame this wasn’t mentioned back when everyone was telling them we weren’t all that keen on ruining Iraq’s shit, really). This is another argument that should be consigned to the dustbin as quickly as possible. Everyone who takes public office should be forced to have tattooed on their left eyelid the phrase “The public are idiots” (in fairness the right eyelid should probably say “Idiots are sometimes right”). This is a fairly authoritarian position to take, I know, but I am an authoritarian so deal with it; public opinion alone does not justify anything. Sure, if it’s cheap and harmless, it does no harm to just take the temperature of the public and go along with it. How many years would we have to go back before the public “knew” that sodomy should be a crime? Or they “knew” a black man shouldn’t marry a white woman? Would we even need to get as far as the Nineteenth Century? MP’s have a duty to consider the ramifications of their choices. They need to weigh up how badly the whim of the majority will screw the lives of the minority. And they need to think as to why the majority thinks the way it does.

This last point was demonstrated pretty well by a third supporter of the bill who pointed out with infuriating smugness that in his constituency having a father was “normal”, and asked whether or not the same thing could be said of a child with two mothers.

This is exactly the problem we’re facing here. The conflation, deliberately or otherwise, of “normal” with “right”. If most people grow up with fathers, that makes fathers the best option. I would hesitate to assume that every member of the public convinced they “know” the answer to this question thinks this way (although absent any evidence to support them, I think hanging on desperately to their narrow definition of normality might actually be the most generous motivation to ascribe to them). The general idea can be torn down immediately, before various advancements in medical technology it was normal for haemophiliacs to die very early. I realise that’s some distance from the argument put forward here, my point is that absent some further clarification, the point is vapid. The only way it bites is if you infer what I think you’re meant to infer, that the behaviour of the majority must be superior, by simple dint of it being what the majority does (we’ll leave aside the obvious point that up until very recently it’s not like we had a lot of choice, you might as well claim horses are a better mode of transport than trains are; in fact I wonder how many people did). Never mind that the argument can’t be supported in any rational way, or that pretty much any change to our or any society over the entire course of human history will have been initially embraced only by a minority (the Mitchell and Webb sketch about the Stone Age man less than thrilled by the advent of bronze springs to mind). As long as people have something to look down upon, they’re happier, and if that makes it harder for two people who love each other to raise a family, well maybe they should just start liking cock, right?

So, in short, the Tories haven’t changed their tune at all. It’s still tyranny of the majority (or what their addled minds assume is the majority, if we’re serious about a discussion over who is or isn’t in touch). Cameron’s first term could be a very long one for liberals.

[1] It is a problem, obviously. But I can only fry so many fish at one time.

Update: Just checked out today's Dinosaur Comics, and found it links to this post in a faintly spooky way.

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