Friday, August 6, 2010

No Rational Basis

Of all the hosts on cable television the worst, in my opinion, is Chris Matthews. Some hosts are pompous and obnoxious (Keith Olbermann, Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly). Some of them are rude (same list). Some of them, despite being intelligent (Keith Olbermann, Bill O'Reilly), seem on occasion, to be astonishingly dim. Chris Matthews fits all three categories - pomposity, rudeness, dimness - and exceeds all his colleagues by comfortable margins in the last two.
I was watching his show, called Hardball, last night (I can only tolerate it for brief periods) as Matthews was grilling a woman about the decision by federal judge Vaughn Walker to strike down California's Proposition 8, a ballot referendum banning gay marriage, which had been approved by a large majority of Californians.
Matthews' interview technique, on this occasion as on so many others, was to ask a question and then, as soon as the guest began her answer, smother the reply with another question, and then another, so that the audience never got to hear a coherent response. The show is exceedingly unenlightening, perhaps deliberately so, and I really can't understand why any intelligent person would watch it regularly. Matthews seems to be psychologically incapable of calm, reasoned discussion with someone with whom he disagrees, and he makes himself look the fool as a result.
The question that Matthews preened himself for badgering the woman with last night was what harm she thought same-sex marriage does and why anyone should feel threatened by it. The answer, of course, is simple, but even if the guest had proffered it, which I don't think she did (it was hard to tell), Matthews really wasn't interested in hearing an answer. He simply wanted to bully the woman and try to make her look foolish and inept to his audience which he must think possesses an average IQ somewhere around room temperature.
Anyone who values marriage and thinks it critical for the health of a society may with justification see same-sex marriage as a threat because it's a giant step toward the collapse of that institution. Here's why: When the sex of the people in a marriage, which had for two thousand years been defined as the union of one man and one woman, is no longer legally enforceable then there's no longer any logical justification for continuing to enforce the number of people in the union. If marriage is a union of people of any sex why not of any number? Indeed, the logic can, and almost certainly will, be taken a step further and the courts will eventually find they have no non-arbitrary justification for thinking that a marriage has to involve people at all. Why not, in an age of animal rights, extend marital rights to animals? Why not permit "blended" marriages between humans and their beloved pets?
Liberals, of course, scoff at the notion that allowing gays to marry would open the door for polyamory or the legalization of marrying one's chimpanzee (or horse, as in Caligula's case), but this simply shows either their disingenuousness or their naivete. People will do whatever they can do. They'll push every envelope they can push, if for no other reason than to achieve notoriety, and the courts will have forfeited the only bulwark that could've prevented the complete disintegration of marriage, i.e. the millenia-old definition of marriage as a union of one man and one woman.
Once that's gone, everything becomes arbitrary. There's no place on the slippery slope to grab a handhold, and the matter of the legal status of marriage will be settled by the whim of whoever is sitting on the federal bench. At that point marriage will collapse into meaninglessness. It'll become whatever people want it to be, and the left will have achieved a goal they've striven for ever since Marx - the abolition of the traditional family and the atomization of society.
It seems a fairly obvious argument, one for which I've never heard a satisfactory rebuttal, or any rebuttal for that matter, other than the rather tepid reply that slippery slope arguments don't amount to a proof. The premise is that no one actually knows whether same sex marriage will open wide the door for the sorts of perversities mentioned above. That's technically true, of course, but the fact is that there'll be nothing in either logic or social momentum to prevent such a denouement. It will all come down to some judge's personal taste and preference, a reality which should give us all pause.
Judge Walker stated in his opinion that there's "no rational basis" for restricting marriage to heterosexuals. I think this is quite mistaken, as I've just argued, but it illustrates what we can now expect in the future. The next judge could easily rule that, similarly, there's "no rational basis" for restricting marriage to just two people, or people unrelated to each other, or people of a particular age, or people at all.
It'd be nice if talk show hosts like Matthews were sincerely interested in considering the actual arguments and the logical precedents being laid down by Judge Walker's ruling. It'd be nice if Matthews hosted a show that clarified these issues for his audience rather than merely using his position as a platform to verbally pummel his guests, obfuscate the issues, and keep everyone in the dark as to the trajectory we're putting ourselves on.