Blog: The Psychotherapist's Corner

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Democracy, Bullying and Homosexuality

Although it has been a while since my last blog article on democracy (January 2009) I would like to continue my thoughts about democracy in America and talk about it in relation to some recent events connected with a homosexual life choice. Condemnation of a homosexual life style is, as we all know, still evident in our American culture. I am not only talking about some thugs in the Bronx who have attacked gay young people, nor the invasion of privacy that caused a young college student to commit suicide. Besides such obvious examples of prejudice I would like to touch on the legal, intellectual and religious bullying that continues in our society. The sources of such bullying reach deep in our society; like a river that has many tributaries. One source came from my own field of psychoanalysis, which, fortunately, has corrected its classification of homosexual behavior as neurotic and in need of cure.  Other sources of intellectual bullying come from religious fundamentalism and legal statues both of which have had a pervasive influence on social practices.

In order to understand why the physical, psychological or intellectual bullying of homosexuality is dangerous for our American society, we need to talk about the nature of democratic consciousness and ask ourselves why it is essential if individual freedom is to survive and grow. I mentioned in my previous post…“democratic consciousness is grounded in the awareness that [toleration of] alternate philosophies of life are the only guaranteed safeguard to everyone’s freedom. I think we all recognize this. But, one could ask, is democratic consciousness just moral relativism? That is, there is no absolute truth at all. Am I just giving a fancy name to an old issue? I don’t think so. Democratic consciousness means that each member of a society, each citizen is willing to modify something we human beings hold on to with great strength and tenacity. And that is the conviction that we are right, that we know what is going on. The apparent consolation, so to speak, but not particularly true, that a person has importance because he or she knows how one is supposed to live.  We human beings are very fragile vessels when it comes to our feelings of self worth. It is not easy to entertain another approach, to consider other opinions than ours; to realize that we might be mistaken in our most deeply held convictions. Such possibilities are, for most people, difficult.

Democracy is difficult because it means that the only way we can live with each other, despite different life styles, is to be willing to put ourselves in another person’s shoes, so to speak. Many people find this so difficult and so threatening that they amass all kinds of arguments why someone acting  differently than they do must be mistaken, wrong or possibly dangerous. No wonder individuals feel free to pick and choose a sentence or a thought from Scripture and use it against those they disagree with. I think that the only truth of any life style that is worth holding on to is a truth that is constantly being looked at, thought about, investigated and reflected upon. Is that easy? No, not particularly. Does such an attitude expose a person to the anxiety of not knowing what is going on, at times? Yes. It does. I ended my previous article on democracy with the thought that “open dialogue is very easy to affirm; it is extremely difficult to implement, yet it [remains] the cornerstone of a democratic consciousness.

Democratic consciousness is an ongoing task; it is something we all have to keep trying to understand and experience. Its enemy is just reading, talking or listening to others who agree with us, politically, religiously or psychologically. To be pulled out of the comfort zone of our particular beliefs, our particular communities is upsetting and sometimes disorienting – and it can easily make one angry and reactive. Teenagers, in particular, since they are struggling with their personal and sexual identity, are very vulnerable to such anxiety and to possible anger. In this regard it helps to remember that the primary goal of education should be to help students appreciate and evaluate other ways of seeing the world, of seeing themselves, it is to open students to knowing that truth is something we have to search for over and over again. Such a search makes life interesting. Only then can students appreciate whatever facts and theories they are taught.

The genius of democracy is the awareness that by appreciating and allowing differences to flourish individuals are not threatened, a society is strengthened. Without diversity a society and its citizens easily fall into what we can call dogmatic consciousness. That is, one has the truth and there is no need to think about it any further. Fundamentalist thinking tells us “what” to think – and that is very comforting – it’s also the opposite of democratic consciousness. We have enough examples, in the twentieth century, of totalitarian political regimes telling their citizens what to think and how to act. Not to mention the religious intolerance that has plagued the West for centuries.

Now lets turn to homosexuality. Of course we are all products of our genes and our environment; the argument that homosexuality or heterosexuality is innate biologically really does not concern me here. It’s a moot point – irresolvable, so far, from a scientific or psychological perspective. And, ultimately, unimportant. Genes do not guarantee personal freedom, democratic consciousness does! For many years psychoanalysis, particularly in America, considered homosexual behavior as deviant and neurotically based and set out to “cure” it. We now know that one does not “cure” comfort zones, preferences or inclinations – in a democratic society one “respects” them.  It is interesting to note that Freud himself did not consider homosexuals “sick” and in need of cure. Despite its earlier convictions about homosexuality, psychoanalysis has always been dedicated to individual freedom and autonomy, to resolving the issues that make a satisfying and fulfilled life difficult. What we know today is that any life style, heterosexual or homosexual, can be put to neurotic purposes. Self harmful behavior is a universal human possibility,  no one lifestyle has cornered the market. Psychoanalysis is not interested in telling people what to do or how to act. Any therapist who does that is not following the insights that psychoanalysis offers.

Democratic consciousness means I am taught at home, ideally and at school, necessarily, that respect for alternate opinions, for personal choices must be talked about, should be discussed, and must be honored. Homophobic behavior or homophobic thinking is the opposite of what we have been discussing. Of course anyone can have his or her own opinion about life choices but that does not entitle anyone, or a democratic society, to forbid another person from choosing a particular life style. Yet such legal forbidding, I am calling it legal bullying, is one of the main pillars behind the armed services policy of don’t ask, don’t tell. We ask our young people to possibly die in defense of our democracy but at the same time we refuse to practice that very democracy they may in fact die for.

One of the main insights of the Christian New Testament is that we are not supposed to throw the righteous stones of our particular beliefs at those we disagree with. No one is innocent when it comes to truth; no one religion, despite its proclamations, has cornered truth. The fact that all three great religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam claim direct inspiration from God and yet say contradictory things – should cause one to hesitate. If each religion is correct, then God must be a very confused person. Maybe what we are supposed to learn is that one should not use spiritual insights to hit another person over the head.  The condemnation of homosexuality in the Hebrew Scriptures is on an equal par with the injunction to stone a woman caught in adultery. A practice we no long think is in God’s service. Therefore the lesson to be learned is that no one should just pick and choose selective passages and claim they are conveying an unchanging truth. Scriptural scholars have spent years of study, understanding the time and place, the historical moment, the use of language, the dangers and problems of transcription of the scriptures – to be dismissed by a simple reading of words. Using such an approach, by reading the scriptures as if they are some simple food recipes for what to think and to do, is relinquishing our obligation to constantly search for the truth, to entertain different possibilities and to give up the consolation that we not only have the truth but we obviously have God on our side as well. I am aware that this is a complex topic and that the condemnation of homosexual behavior is also based on what is referred to as natural law. In this case, as well, such arguments are, for the most part, based on a literalist, overly concrete interpretation of natural law. Literalist readings of scripture or of philosophy betray the dignity of man and the gift of intellect the creator has given. Such a literal mindset undermines religious freedom and undermines democratic consciousness as well.

So why do we have to teach our young not to bully? Why do we have to inform adults that intellectual, legal or psychological bullying is just as harmful? Because living in a democratic society demands no less. Why do we have to help adults get past their condemnation of life styles they personally do not approve of? Because personal and social maturity demands that individuals give up the consolation of narcissism – that is, I are right and I know I are right. Everyone is free to say what he or she likes or does not prefer- no one is obliged to like the homosexual lifestyle. Democratic consciousness means, it’s worth repeating, that a person is willing to respect difference, allowing differences to be. Refusing, thereby, to assume that my opinions are automatically superior and should, or must be, imposed. That is the stuff of totalitarian consciousness – it’s the exact opposite of what America is all about.

I invite your comments and reactions….

3 Responses to “Democracy, Bullying and Homosexuality”

  1. Will C. said:

    Aug 18, 11 at 1:53 pm

    Well said. T4P.

  2. Gerald J. Gargiulo said:

    Sep 19, 11 at 7:23 am


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