Guest Comment: On Colours, Cultural Imperialism, LGBT Rights and Debating

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By Carlon Knight
Crucial to the success of any debate is the rule that both sides must actually ‘engage’ with one another. By this we mean, you must have an ability to not only understand sufficiently the other’s point of view, but, equally to find where the logical deficits in their reasoning occur and therein aim to convince either the other party, or a third, that your argument is the stronger of the views presented. Note the thought here of ‘understanding the other’s point of view,’ this is perhaps the most crucial aspect of any debate because at the point where you do not carefully consider your opponents arguments and attempt to respond to them critically, what you then have is not a debate but a ‘shouting match’ of ideas – cross purpose communication that accomplishes very little.
Herein lies my problem with the debate I (tried to) listen to on Observer Radio on the topic of the ‘Removal of rainbow coloured flags’ that supposedly symbolised the LGBT movement and not Antigua and Barbuda’s carnival celebrations. While for the most part the guests were intelligent and handled themselves well without devolving into the kind of vitriol that can characterise these discussions, I found the discussion often polarized and often under-analysed which made it difficult to conclude that either side was very convincing in their stances.  
To this end, I’d like to take two views expressed by two of the panellists: Reverent Murphy and the other by Tasheka Lavann as my cases in point here. I’ll mention the other guests intermittently. I’ll only speak to the logical development of the arguments and offer no commentary on the speakers themselves. I hope this much is understood. Note as well this is my interpretation and it may or may not represent the actual views represented.
Reverend Murphy’s case really rested on the assumptions of: a. the universality of values, b. the transitivity and inflexibility of these values and c. the role of the church in so far as the defense of these values are concerned. Let’s address each of these in turn. 
When Reverend Murphy offers us the view that ‘the homosexual agenda’ is ‘attack on the Judaeo-Christian social fabric of Caribbean society,’ he must do a much better job at explaining what these nebulous concepts mean. ‘What is this homosexual agenda that he speaks of?’ ‘Why is it so bad?’ ‘Who’s pushing this supposed agenda?’ ‘Are you sure your agenda and theirs is actually the same?’ Moreover, he has to explain something that is largely implicitly assumed by many religious people. That there is some ‘universal moral ethic’ by which all citizens abide. Even within Christianity, there are various political strands on the question of ‘morals’. Take the issue of manners of dress, eating, and even questions of sexual temptation for example. Simply stating ‘the bible is clear’, when in fact it really isn’t as attested by so many differing interpretations, doesn’t do a good enough job to defend this case.
Then there is the problem of religious diversity and acceptance. ‘The bible says, therefore it must be so’ argument really breaks down at the point where I do not profess Christian faith. But that can be easily handled by appeals to the majority defense. “If enough people support it, then in a democracy blah blah blah” The trouble is, The Right really have not been apt at proving they are in fact the majority. Again, they have simply asserted this by force of tradition. Well, I might beg to differ, and, your dwindling pews numbers might also suggest otherwise.
This point of tradition brings me to the point of the ‘transitivity and inflexibility’ of his assumptions. Again, here he runs into lots of logical trouble. Even if he wins the point that at one point Antigua and Barbuda may have been a ‘Christian Society’ with a distinct cultural ethos, he still needs to demonstrate that this obtains now. More importantly, he needs to demonstrate that current generations ought to be bound by static moral codes which they have had no input in formulating. Why should I care about the morals my parents lived by? What makes them inherently better? Why can’t I have say in the moral codes that should govern my life?
Here’s the trouble for the good reverend, and indeed for the Christian Right on a whole, the social contract is based on the idea of the ‘consent of the governed’, that is, you get impose rules upon me only in so far as I accept them. The problem is, as the composition of ‘the governed’ changes, so too, do the moral codes that they wish to consent to.
Finally, we examine the argument of The Church’s role. A brilliant Yorker was bowled by Senator Aziza Lake when she questioned why The Church’s muscle only seemed to flex on issues surrounding the LGBT movement? Yet, the relevance of the institution seems questionable at the point where when other, questionably more heinous, crimes are committed there is piercing silence. Imagine, she said, if we could get the church to pressure governments to arrest instances of domestic abuse, child rape and a series of other equally repugnant issues, that she believed, should have more salience in the public eye than ‘colourful’ streamers.
Here he was flippant. He dismissed the assertion by suggesting that the church did in fact comment on these issues and that we can have one conversation at a time essentially. Unfortunately, the response was weak. Weak because of the dis-proportionality in reactions. It is a question of picking low hanging fruit at the point where you can kick up a storm about colourful streamers, and yet, remain anaemic at best, and impotent at worst to actually do something about more challenging issues like paedophilia, rape, theft and murder. This is not to say the church can solve these issues. It is to say that the church, in recognition of its ineffectiveness, deliberately chooses battles it feels it can win to demonstrate contemporary relevance; and that, makes it guilty of selection bias.
This brings me to Ms. Lavann.
Her case I believe fell apart because she, a passionate activist, relied too heavily on emotion and rhetoric instead of logic to make her argument. Her case seemed quite credible at first, (surely no one wants to find themselves on the opposite side of a tolerance argument) but quickly came crashing down as she progressed. Her fault? Again, it takes similar lines as the reverend. So here I say, ‘see earlier points on a. the universality of values and b. the transitivity and inflexibility of values.’
But where her case became especially problematic was her uncritical acceptance of Western value propagation. Specifically, when she makes crude statements like ‘Antigua is being viewed as a backward country in the eyes of some of my friends’ the natural response should be: “So who cares about what your friends thinks?” Then she, in the arrogance of the correctness of her opinion, asserts: “These views are backward and Antigua is being looked at as a backward country?” Again, who cares about what your perception of backwardness is? Or that Antigua somehow loses because you have that view? The point is, there is nothing inherent about the term ‘backwardness’ and it should not be used in any debate. It is a value laden proposition that rests on the acceptance of both the user and the object/person to which/to whom it refers. Antiguans have every right to reject pejorative and demeaning characterisations and assert their own cultural sovereignty on such matters. Moreover, no one likes a bully, so I’d dare say, it is your friends that might have the problem – not Antigua – if people are fine with their lives.
Most problematic for her, however, was the assumption of the ‘universality of human rights’. Here she runs into a whole heap of trouble. For one thing, she might need to understand that human rights are artificial and arbitrary and states actually sign on to conventions accepting these ‘rights’. This is not to say of course that they shouldn’t, but it is to acknowledge that there exists an idea of sovereignty with respect to how rights are applied. That is why for instance, the USA, who she believes is so culturally superior to Antigua and Barbuda on the question of LGBT rights, has not signed onto The Convention on the Rights of the Child because it deems it not in its own interest to do so. Now, I find that repugnant, but guess what, the USA can do so; question is, why then should small states have to accede to all human rights. Again, this isn’t to say we should not, but you are going to have to do a whole heap of a better job actually proving why we should, than by saying ‘it’s human rights therefore it must be good’ which is an appeal to authority fallacy.  Ultimately Ms. Lavann, contrary to your assertion, no, ‘human rights’ are not the basis of everything – sovereignty is –  and so, both you and your surrogates need a better response to this.
In closing, I’d say this debate lacked not because people were not informed, but because they, so convinced of the correctness of their own views, failed to introspectively analyse them for any possible weakness. Which meant, neither could do a very impressive job convincing the ‘on the fencer’ of their side. They failed to engage each other and instead drifted sadly down the road of personal attacks. Had the debate been more balanced it would have revealed that culture is a slowly evolving creature. You cannot beat people into submission with the blunt force of arrogant certainty. You can, however, understand that views can be moulded with time and patience. That, if you break down your arguments to show logically, step by step, why your side is the better one, you may just gain a few converts even if you can never win them all.

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