The Reactionary Utopian
                      June 8, 2006

by Joe Sobran

     "The unexamined life is not worth living," Socrates 
said, probably after reading the morning papers. It never 
ceases to amaze me how passionately we all (I 
emphatically include myself) get caught up in the most 
trivial, ephemeral matters, like summer flies buzzing 
around the freshest dunghill.

     "How small this will appear a twelvemonth hence!" 
Samuel Johnson remarked about the latest news of his day. 
I forget what it was -- probably something political. 
It's in politics that men are always aggravating the 
hopeless tangle of their laws, obscuring the simplest 
principles and making a mockery of liberty.

     Take our civil rights laws -- please. The term 
"civil rights" has come to mean the opposite of what it 
suggests. People think it means individual freedom, when 
it usually means government power used in behalf of large 
groups (anyone Ted Kennedy calls a "minority"). Some 
lawyers specialize in the field of civil rights, always a 
bad sign.

     If freedom means anything, it means the natural 
right to choose your own company. This is precisely what 
"civil rights" denies. If the government dislikes your 
choice of associates, in a business or a school perhaps, 
it can punish you for the offense of "discrimination."

     Now, "discrimination" used to be a perfectly good 
word. It meant the ability to tell things apart. We 
praised people for being discriminate or discriminating. 
You discriminated "between," not "against." Then the word 
unfortunately became associated chiefly with invidious 
forms of discrimination. Now its primary meaning is 
almost forgotten.

     In the 1993 movie PHILADELPHIA, a homosexual lawyer 
contracts AIDS and is fired by the law firm he works for. 
He sues, claiming he is a victim of discrimination -- 
that is, a victim of others' decision to avoid him. He 
doesn't even suggest that the firm has violated any 
agreement it had made with him. Discrimination is bad, 
that's all, and it overrides the firm's right to choose 
and dismiss its members.

     Needless to say, the film stacks the deck 
emotionally. The homo is shown as an entirely sympathetic 
character. We aren't told, let alone shown, how he got a 
fatal disease -- innocently, we are invited to assume, 
since there is apparently nothing wrong with sodomy. His 
case is taken by another lawyer, a very nice black man 
who, however, has to overcome his own prejudices against 
homosexuals (and lesbians).

     The firm's senior lawyers, on the other hand, are 
shown as a clubby group of smug hypocrites (all white, by 
the way) who, among themselves, make nasty comments and 
jokes about homosexuals. They lie about why they fired 
the homo. Obviously such men can have no right to freedom 
of association. They are guilty -- of discrimination. And 
of general unpleasantness, too.

     The good homosexual finally wins his case in court. 
Then, alas, he dies. We are supposed to feel that his 
cause has been vindicated because he's such a decent, 
pitiful fellow and his enemies aren't. Hollywood honored 
the film with several academy awards.

     It's pretty hard to miss the symbolism of a black 
lawyer defending a homosexual. The torch is being passed 
to a new generation of victims. The blacks have already 
won their civil rights; now it's the homos' turn.

     All of which leaves the original question 
unanswered. Or rather, the answer is assumed without 
argument. Do we have the right to choose our company? No, 
says the movie.

     It could have been a much better drama if the law 
firm had raised the principle in court instead of lying 
about the facts. But that would have been quite 
unrealistic, because the principle at stake is long gone. 
The only question left is which side can make the 
strongest assault on the audience's tear ducts.

     Movies like PHILADELPHIA don't need, or want, 
emotional complications any more than intellectual ones. 
What if the hero had had some rough edges -- self-pity, 
promiscuity, contempt for others' rights? What if his 
adversaries had been scrupulously honest and even 
regretful about firing him?

     Never mind. The movie matches the level of debate we 
are now seeing in the U.S. Congress, where defining 
marriage as a union between a man and a woman is called 
-- what else? -- "discrimination." You expect cheap 
pathos in the movies, but must we endure it in politics 

     Come to think of it, I guess we must. You know what 
Socrates said about democracy.


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