April 21, 2009

Indelicate Manipulation Of Social Pressure

This very attractive young lady from La Jolla, California appears to think that because she is against the idea of same-sex marriage, she did not become Miss USA. Leaving aside the vapidity of beauty pageants, it seems quite odd that someone moving in that world would not recognize that a significant part of "competing" in such an event involves appealing to gay men. Indeed, the issue came up when Perez Hilton, an openly gay gossip columnist serving as a judge for the competition, asked what the contestant thought about gay marriage and she gave the "wrong" answer. Miss California says she has no regrets even though she thinks that the answer cost her the crown. Well, that's nice.

Let's assume that this is what actually happened, that the winner and this young lady were otherwise equally-qualified. That is probably not true, but on the other hand, it's difficult for me to appreciate exactly what qualifies one to win a beauty pageant anyway aside from being hot and at that level, they're all hot. (The winner, a young woman named Kristen Dalton from North Carolina, is pictured to the right and as you can see, she's very attractive also.) And asking a gay man to decide whether one woman is hotter than another is more than faintly ridiculous. But like I say, let's assume this is true anyway. Let's also assume that the politics of beauty pageants are important to the shaping of larger political policy issues, which they probably are not but somehow this seems to be gaining headlines so maybe they are despite my sneer.

It's actually kind of a touchy game. On the one hand, it puts pressure on people to be more publicly in favor of the desired policy. But on the other hand, it risks the creation of a backlash against that policy as a form of "political correctness." Where you want to be in the manipulation of social pressure is to make it so all the "cool kids" think same-sex marriage should be legal. Where you don't want to be is in a situation where approval of same-sex marriage is imposed on people from some kind of an authority. So if it's true that giving an answer to this question displeased the judges of the beauty pageant enough that it changed the result, then we're in that second universe, the one where authority is imposing opinions rather than peers encouraging it. That's backlash territory.

Of course, the real change will only come when people realize that their own religious preferences are not to be imposed on others, when they remember that "live and let live" is an important and worthwhile ethic to pursue in one's life, and when they see that giving recognition to gay couples does nothing to alter the fabric of society. Until then, there will continue to be debate over the issue as people who do, perhaps from a place where they think they are acting out of good intentions, reach for and cling to whatever flimsy rationalization they can find to justify a policy position which has bigotry as its taproot.


trumwill said...

You seem to be hinting at something, although I'm not sure you've ever said it. Is it your opinion that holding a political position as a product of religious belief is less valid than holding it for some other reason? In other words, if somebody opposes the death penalty because "though shalt not kill" instead of some other philosophical or practical issue, should they not vote accordingly?

Or is it only an issue regarding the protection of the civil rights from the government. One of the most pro-life people I know doesn't believe in God. Does he have more standing to press the issue than does someone that believes it's wrong because his reading of the Bible says so?

Granted, I think that people whose views are based on purely (or mostly) religious grounds are substantially less convincing. But I don't think that my opposing the death penalty on quasi-religious grounds is a less valid reason than the other, more procedural ones (cost, wrongful convictions, etc).

Burt Likko said...

Clearly, I've stated myself poorly here. I am not taking aim at the basis for person A's beliefs at all. Rather, I'm looking at the efforts of person B to influence A's beliefs. Here, I'm assuming that Perez Hilton used his influence to reward a favored viewpoint and to punish a disfavored one. My suggestion is that doing so approaches and sometimes crosses a line into behavior that can generate backlash and retrograde consequences.

My last paragraph is aimed at the idea that pressure of this kind, whether applied correctly or ham-fistedly, is ultimately ineffective anyway, because a real change of opinion needs to come from within oneself. The kinds of changes in opinion I mentioned were examples of this, specific to the issue of same-sex marriage and religious-based opposition to it.

zzi said...

"She lost it because of that question. She was definitely the front-runner before that," Hilton said, adding that he's "very happy with whom the judges chose," Miss North Carolina's Kristen Dalton.--The person who runs the Miss California competition said the same thing.

trumwill said...

I wasn't very clear on precisely what I was referring to.

I did catch (and agree with!) your point about the hamfisted manner in which Hilton operated. Where I got confused in the first sentence of the last paragraph. I read it as you saying that the problem is with the religiousness from which her views were (presumably) derived. I take the view that the issue is that her religion (again, assuming that's the basis) is wrong. Then again, on this specific issue, maybe that's the only terrain that we can win. We're certainly not going to change the religion itself. Maybe a better tactic would be to try to argue why, in this case, the law needs to view marriage as a civic rather than moral institution.

Burt Likko said...

Well, it's true that I believe most of the opposition to same-sex marriage finds its foundation in the religious beliefs of the opponents. There seem to be relatively few secular SSM opponents. So opinions on this issue will not change until the imperative of following the dictates of these religions diminishes in importance to the other values I described in that sentence. As I feared after your first comment, I expressed myself poorly in that sentence.

I must remember the rule -- coffee first, writing later.