Essays About


Cops and robbers would score the same on personality tests. Children who love guns and action, when they grow up, may act out their instincts on either side of the law. They may shoot people, or shoot people who shoot people. What we call brazenness in a criminal we call courage in a police officer.

Were I just arrived in the world and forming my picture of humanity, the Geneva Conventions would perplex me. If nations can ratify treaties for humane conduct in war, why, inhumanely, do they go to war? The Geneva Conventions prescribe that the wounded must be cared for. But they may be wounded? Soldiers are to be evil toward the healthy but charitable toward the injured. Try to kill people, but if you miss, nurse them. Can there be laws of war when war is the breakdown of law, the free-for-all nations resort to when they cannot agree? The human blend of civility and brutality is like a murderer who wipes his shoes on the mat before entering your house to kill you.

I reject condemnations of homosexuality in part because the condemners are always heterosexuals, who, like foremen of the good, command others to change without having to change themselves. The test of a moral assertion is where its burden falls. The morality of the saints makes life harder for oneself. The morality of social conservatives makes life harder for others.

My wife and I settle our arguments by deciding whom an adverse outcome would bother more. Better that one of us be slightly annoyed than the other be greatly annoyed. Rather than cajole each other or come to shouts, we weigh our would-be grievances. This leads to a policy of laissez-faire: if she wishes to attend a reunion and I do not, she goes alone, though she would rather I went with her and I would rather she stay home with me. Dragging me along would bring her less pleasure than me annoyance; vice versa if I stood in her way.

I apply this principle to the issue of gay rights. Discrimination hurts gays more than equality for gays hurts their opponents. At stake for gay people are their own lives; at stake for their opponents, merely others' lives. The effect on gays is material, direct, and daily; the effect on their opponents, abstract, remote, and occasional, concerning only the conformity of society to their moral beliefs. My neighbor, not me, gets to choose how to decorate his living room because he lives in it while I merely glimpse it through his window. Our rights extend only to the property line of our own life.

Traditional values are unjustly said to be under attack by the gay rights movement. An attack entails crossing the border into another's territory. Therefore no one can be an attacker who is merely defending his right to a share of the common happiness available to mortals. Gay rights is an issue of self-defense, which only looks like an attack because traditional values have so long forced a portion of humanity to suffer in silence.

Opposition to gay rights is commonly based on religion, which the United States Constitution forbids as the basis of law. That gays nevertheless lack equal rights under law is a reminder that, though laws govern nations, nations make and govern the laws. Therefore, if the ruling majority desires a society in which all are equal but whites can own blacks as slaves, or where church and state are separate but the state forbids gay marriage because the church says so, there is no external, independent, governing thing called Law to prevent such contradictions, nothing outside the lawmakers' own imperfect desire for moral consistency. The world is not governed by law but by power, expressed through law. Accordingly, the only way to change the world is to wield power, which in a democracy means the power to change minds.