I Have Discovered Bizzaro Micha

[crossposted in a comment thread at AotP]

Wow. I vaguely remember coming across mnuez before in some other comment thread, and vaguely remember visiting his blog and learning that he is a recovering Orthodox Jew, just like me. But it wasn't until following TGGP's link back to his blog and his conversation at Overcoming Bias that I went back, reread some of his blog posts, and realized how similar he and I truly are in terms of life experience, and yet how vastly different we are in socio/political/economic outlook. This post in particular struck a nerve; I've had nearly identical conversations with old Yeshiva buddies. And yet, and yet, and yet...

I think the one major outlook he and I share is athiesm. And that's where it ends. He seems to be an economic welfare-statist populist of the Naomi Klein variety, a genetic determinist with respect to race (but not sexuality, apparently), an immigration restrictionist, and, as demonstrated in the AotP thread, has some personal hang-ups with homosexuality. I haven't read enough of his blog to discern his foreign policy views -- specifically Israel and the war in Iraq -- but my initial guess would be Weekly Standard-esque. That might be unfair, but it was one of the last major changes in my world view, and given my personal experience I think it's pretty damned difficult for someone brought up in America as an Orthodox Jew and who has spent time in Israel to adopt what would be for them a most radical heterodox position.

And yet, and yet, and yet...... there are still some signs of hope. His willingness to defend the FLDS even though he pretty clearly finds their practices repugnant is... inspiring, to say the least, from this radical pluralist libertarian's perspective. Consider the following snippets taken from that post:

The simple fact is that Freedom Kills.

BUT -

Allowing human beings as much Freedom as a functioning society possibly can offer them is still the best system that we've got for ensuring human happiness.

It's inefficient, wrong as often as it's right, harm and suffering-causing in ways too varied and too horrible to list or describe - but it's still the best massive system (that I know of) that humans have ever created.

Allowing children to be indoctrinated by the ridiculous beliefs of their local "authorities" (their Rabbis, teachers, cultural icons, prophets or parents) and then allowing them to continue to believe what they will and to "worship" as and what they will and to DO as they wish (provided the fist comes to a stop before the bulb of the nose, of course) is stomach-churning stuff. More than 1 out of every hundred of these people will END THEIR OWN LIFE(!) or at least make an attempt of some sort to do so. That's pretty bad statistics for a species. But as Churchill famously is said to have said regarding Democracy, it's still the best system we've got.

So until such a (seemingly mythical) Utopian Era shall dawn I believe that we should do every single thing in our power to REBEL against any utopian attempt to curtail human freedoms. [...]

I believe in justice for THEM for the solitary and selfish reason that I desire justice for ME. Their religions are all worthless (in my view) but until we humans get around to figuring out the ideal way to raise our children and to live in absolute happiness and joy (something which is likely never to happen [unless we computerize ourselves or something similar]) we're best off not allowing any totalitarianism to gain a foothold. The world of ideas requires competition which is why we demand liberty for all and why we have a Bill of Rights.

Now, if he could just take these same insights and apply them to economics, ala Nozick's capitalist acts between consenting adults, I think we'd have a genuine libertarian on our hands.

For example, consider his economic objection to libertarianism here:

Laissez Faire is violent. When a credit card company is allowed to utilize decades worth of academic research into exactly how best to get some inner-city suffering single-mother to sign up for one of their new cards with exorbitant fees so that they can rape what last pennies she has, they are engaging in violence.

How is this any different than a self-interested cult-leader brainwashing his uneducated followers to engage in behavior that is harmful to their own interests? Answer: it isn't. But yet in the case of the brainwashing cult leader, mnuez recognizes that the cure is more dangerous than the disease. As much as we may despise the religious cult for doing intellectual (and often very real) violence to its own members, mnuez understands that granting government officials the power to live other people's lives for them is more likely to lead to harm, not help. Now he just needs to extend this same insight to pay-day lenders and he'll be set.

Incidentally, in that same post mnuez requested (for reasons that escape me given his professed religious views), "Find me laissez faire in the Bible please." I am more than happy to oblige. See: I Samuel, Chapter 8. A more poetic encapsulation of laissez faire I cannot fathom. (I'm assuming, of course, that by Bible mnuez is cool with referencing the entire Tanach, and not just the first five books.)

Now on to the homosexuality. I have no idea if homosexuality is biologically or culturally determined. It doesn't really much matter (or shouldn't really much matter) for questions on how gay people should be treated. So I am very much perplexed when he writes,

What disturbs me is the Big Lie regarding how these people came to be classified thusly. The general consensus in all polite company is that “they were born that way” such that they are a class of human beings akin to Jews, Blacks or Women and thus there are particular “human rights” that they are morally entitled to in the same manner as the aforementioned groups of people whose societal status is innate.

My own view is that it’s most likely that the majority of self-identified gay people would likely not be as interested in exclusive homosexuality were they raised in different environments (though of course a few other people might be interested in just such a sort of sexual relationship were they raised in said “other” environments).

For this reason I believe that Christian mommies have every moral right to ask that their sons not be influenced by the likely-untrue belief that homosexuality is innate.

There is much to unpack here. What does innateness have to do with human rights? For example, being a member of a particular religious belief system is certainly not innate (even if holding a generic religious belief is innate), and yet mnuez seems to be willing to defend the human rights of strange Mormon sects to practice their wacky beliefs. Why should the same not be true of homosexuals?

I'm also not sure what he means by his last sentence. If Christian mommies want to live without a television in their house (as my Orthodox married sister does) so as not to be exposed to the evils of Will and Grace, more power to them. If they went to further restrict themselves and their children from exposure to not just television, but modern secular culture in general (as my many Chareidi aunts, uncles, and cousins living in Israel do), more power to them as well.

I don't see how any of this turns on the question of the innateness of homosexuality. Why is the belief that homosexuality is innate any more dangerous or influential to the Christian mommies than the belief that homosexuality is environmental but also unobjectionable and perfectly compatible with a happy, healthy, moral, flourishing, satisfying life? The Modern Orthodox consensus among American Jews seems to accept the claim that homosexuality is biologically innate (at least for the sake of argument), but still rejects it on the grounds that it violates Halacha. So it would seem to me that the second belief -- that it is environmentally determined but perfectly acceptable, would be more at odds with socially conservative religious views than the first belief.

I'm inclined to agree with mnuez's claim that "it’s most likely that the majority of self-identified gay people would likely not be as interested in exclusive homosexuality were they raised in different environments." Not that this impinges on the question of whether homosexuality is biologically innate or culturally influenced. It could be a combination of both. Some people might be more inclined than others to pursue exclusive homosexuality under certain cultural conditions, and less so under other cultural conditions. So too, some people who really like the taste of bacon might be more inclined than others to satisfy this taste if they were brought up Christian in contemporary America than if they were brought up Muslim or Jewish in a culture where eating bacon might result in severe social ostracism or legal punishment.

For what it's worth, one piece of evidence that homosexuality is a bit more than just an aberrant taste is the lengths and risks some people will go to engage in homosexual relationships. A personal example: I attended an Orthodox Yeshiva in Israel the year after high school, just as mnuez did. (Ohr Yerushalayim - I'm sure mnuez has heard of it; it is one of the larger and well known Yeshivas in this demographic.) A few years later, I found out that one of the boys that attended the same year I did came out of the closet while attending Yeshiva University. Now, I didn't know this guy very well, and I don't really know the culture of YU, so it's possible he wasn't really interested in living a halachic lifestyle anyway, but what about those who are so interested? There are certainly many cases of people who seem to be genuinely conflicted over both their commitment to Orthodox Judaism (or, for that matter, their commitment to the more socially conservative denominations of Christianity that do not tolerate homosexuality) and their desire to remain part of that community, but at the same time feel that they are deeply homosexual, and that leading a purely heterosexual life would be a life devoid of romantic and sexual meaning, a life lacking something very basic and very important to most of us.

If homosexuality is purely a result of cultural influences, why in the world would a small but significant minority of people brought up in socially conservative cultures, who otherwise appreciate those cultures and want to live their lives within them, choose to squander their relationship with friends, family, and community over an easily modifiable whim or preference? If the only problems I had with being halachically observant were the inconveniences of keeping kosher and shabbos, I'm sure I would still be observant. Those were small prices to pay to remain within the culture; openly violating those laws (and any widely-practiced halacha) meant placing myself outside the community, distancing myself from friends and family, and giving up on whatever cultural benefits I may have previously enjoyed from being an observant Jew. There were many reasons I ultimately decided to separate myself from that community, but no longer having to deal with the inconveniences of kashrus and shabbos were mere side-benefits, afterthoughts, way down on the list of reasons to depart. If human sexuality were as easy to ignore and modify as mnuez seems to think, I don't understand why we would see so many cases of people genuinely conflicted, who want to remain in the community and are willing to bear whatever other costs are asked of them, but not this one.

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