Individualism and Righteousness on Duck Dynasty

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Rod Dreher is upbeat about the number of gays who are urging restraint, understanding, and “furthering the discussion” with Phil Robertson: 

http://www.theamericanconservative.com/dreher/phil-robertson-brandon-ambrosino-andrew-sullivan-gay/comment-page-1/#comment-3654767

At times like these, I wonder if the people over at TAC are really on the side of actual conservatives or not. But then I have to remember that even in the supposedly wide-open American system, every halfway-mainstream voice comes from the same intellectual tradition, and that tradition is Judeo-Christian individualism. Dreher might see decency or civility in these responses. I see the problem far magnified.

I don’t watch DD and I don’t really care. It’s very clear who these people are, just from looking at the licensed products on display at Wal-Mart; no one should have been surprised at these comments, and I sort of agree with the tinfoil-hat conservative crowd who thinks that the entire controversy was planned out by A&E to get attention. That’s not to say that the network told Phil what to say, but they didn’t need to. That point of view he delivered was certainly his point of view. His suspension adds to the drama.

With the way this culture thinks about morals, what Phil said was not simply an unpopular opinion but a logically incorrect one. Phil hit the jackpot for them when he said gayness was “illogical”: they wanted to hear that, because now they can logically “prove” him wrong. Never mind that the boundary between objectivity and subjectivity always a matter of opinion when discussing values. They don’t see it that way, because they see egalitarian ethics as being secular, reasoned, beyond personal preferences, and freedom-promoting by nature. In other words, they are “objectively right.”

So, since Phil is “objectively wrong”, he must be “educated”.

This is where individualism, as a structural idea, turns into a totalitarian imposition of political correctness. With ethics based on a ridiculously overblown liberal understanding of what constitutes harm – basically, hurt feelings in any capacity – they take Phil to be either ignorant or hateful, but capable of changing, and they will desperately want to help him change. Maybe he should take a hint from Jennifer Lawrence, who thinks calling someone fat should be a criminal offense. 

The reason these commentators are saying that they want to talk to Robertson, instead of just burning him in effigy before shutting him out of cultural life, is the exact same reason Christians just had to send missionaries to China and South America instead of leaving cultures with different beliefs alone. Because they must convert. Convert, and then put the camera back on them and make them say that they were wrong, so then others might be converted. They must convert because they believe they are intractably and objectively right and no other point of view can be allowed to exist, and yet they lack the nerve to kill their enemies, preferring to think they’re doing them a favor by assaulting their point of view and changing who they are.

“Reasoned debate” in which one side simply will not accept losing – and the liberal side will never accept losing, especially if it hurts the feelings of a preferred minority – is a form of violence. Phil’s identity as a person is being assaulted here. The willingness for liberals to leave political ideology out of the facets of identity demanding protection makes little sense, especially when they theoretically believe that religion should be protected. 

If you live in an individualistic culture that believes morality to be objective, instead of subjective and cultural, your conception of the good is in competition with other conceptions within the marketplace of ideas and those opposing ideas must be destroyed. This is how righteousness works; it’s winner take all. The battle is for market share of the human psyche. And if you believe in such a thing as objective values and objective morality, you MUST do this.

I’d rather Robertson get kicked off the show than be publicly shamed and browbeaten until he recanted, like some soft-handed Spanish Inquisition of political correctness. He’s made his money. Let him say his peace and disappear.

At least Robertson’s fans understand the basic element that makes point of view work: identity. What matters is what side you’re on, what culture you are a part of, what group you can feel like you belong to. DD fans are rallying to Phil, and so is his family. And since he said what lots of them think anyway, they back him up, regardless of whether they can make a nuanced logical case for the righteousness of Phil’s remarks. In this world, we seem to think that’s the problem, but playing that kind of game gets you witch hunts in a hurry. It’s actually the nature of loyalty, and it’s closer to a solution.

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4 comments

  1. “I’d rather Robertson get kicked off the show than be publicly shamed and browbeaten until he recanted, like some soft-handed Spanish Inquisition of political correctness. He’s made his money. Let him say his peace and disappear.”

    Not gonna happen. What is Phil Robertson to do in this situation in light of that?

    1. I’m not absolutely sure if it will happen or not. The family seems to take the possibility of leaving seriously. But fortunately, I’m not seeing many people really pursuing this very hard.

      The story seems to be dying faster than expected. That might be because of the timing, with the holidays, or with the shooting schedule of the show, where they haven’t been able to find a way to really keep it front and center. In any case, there doesn’t look to be as much pressure on him to keep talking about it or change his perspective. The media seems to be dismissing the story a bit, so he doesn’t have to do anything at the moment.

      That’s fine by me, and it’s probably fine by him, too. “Just drop it” makes for a fine solution, at least temporarily. Next season might change something. Obviously, A&E makes a bucketload of money with that show, so they would prefer him to come back. The short attention span of America might work in his favor.

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