Why “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is absurd and unsustainable

Here is an e-mail I wrote to the author of an article, “Will gays, who hurt priesthood, now weaken military?”

David Carlin
Community College of Rhode Island

Dear Mr. Carlin:

I particularly liked one of the key arguments in your article, but I don’t feel I completely understand it. On the question of whether “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” violates some human right possessed by homosexuals, you wrote:

For the sake of argument, let’s concede that sexually active gays have a human right to serve in the military. This right is already guaranteed by DADT. What is not guaranteed is a right of a gay soldier to notify his comrades that he is gay, for instance by boasting of his conquests last night at a gay bar.

Now from time immemorial, heterosexual soldiers have been boasting of their conquests, and generals (except perhaps Cromwell) have put up with this disgusting practice; but nobody has ever suggested that they have an inalienable human right to do this boasting. If straight soldiers don’t have a human right to do this, neither have gay soldiers. Yet somebody might say, “Well, let’s make a distinction. Gay soldiers will be allowed to tell their comrades about their gayness, but they won’t be allowed to boast about last night’s conquests.” The absurdity of trying to enforce such a distinction is so obvious that it not worth commenting on.

You seem to be saying that, once the right to speak about the fact of their homosexuality is allowed, it will be impossible to prevent them from boasting about their sexual conquests and relationships and otherwise promoting homosexuality and homosexual behavior, and therefore the right of announcing the bare fact of their homosexuality cannot be allowed.

Meanwhile, you say that heterosexual soldiers also do not have the right to boast of their sexual conquests, though, as you add, they have done so from time immemorial. So I’m a little confused about how your example of heterosexual soldiers fits with your example of homosexual soldiers. What should be the rights of heterosexual soldiers, and what should be the rights of homosexual soldiers?

If you laid out your argument as a series of brief statements or propositions, I think that would be helpful.

Thank you.
Lawrence Auster
View from the Right

Kristor writes:

Here’s the hinge of the whole thought experiment: “let’s concede that sexually active gays have a human right to serve in the military.” But why? Why stipulate such a thing, even for the sake of argument? Why undertake to run this thought experiment in the first place? Is it not obviously whacked from the get-go? What is this talk of a “human right” to serve in the military? Why should person x have a right, qua human being, to serve in the military, any more than they have a right to serve in a donut shop? If it is a human right to serve in the military, then is it not unjust to tell quadriplegics that they are not going to be let into the Rangers?

The Rangers are not set up to accommodate the human rights of all Americans, but to defend them. For that defense to work, the Rangers must be implacably lethal and effective. This entails preventing quadriplegics from serving as Rangers, however hard that must be for quadriplegics. Likewise it prevents women and homosexuals from serving as Rangers. Anyone who is not capable of killing lots of deadly people very efficiently should not even consider applying for Ranger school. I have great affection for my many homosexual friends—who, despite their perversions and characteristic sins, so different from my own more normal sins, are among the most beautiful human beings I know—but they are not fitted to be Rangers. And they would be the first to admit to this truth. They are fitted to be dancers, or actors, or musicians, or fashion designers, or indeed thinkers and writers (or even monastics). In such occupations, they may add much to our culture, much to their own eternal merit. But there is no “human right” to do or be anything. The only rights that are ineluctably human are the rights of the freedom of the will, to do the good and follow the will of God, or not. All else is optional, conditional, and indeed vanity. The sooner we get over it, and on to the real work at hand, the better.

LA replies:

Well, what you’re really getting at is the absurdity and unsustainability of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. Carlin accepts DADT, and wants to prevent things from going further. The problem is that his argument—that going beyond DADT to giving homosexual servicemen the right to state out loud the fact of their homosexuality is a mistake because it would necessarily mean giving them the right to talk about their relationships, their sexual conquests, etc. as well—applies equally to DADT itself. That is, once you allow DADT, once you say that homosexuals have a right to be in the military, then it becomes absurd—indeed, it becomes insanely oppressive—to say that they don’t also have a right to talk about what they are, about their relationships, etc..

Now as I understand it, DADT does NOT actually create a right for homosexuals to serve. The rule is still that homosexuals may NOT serve, but that the military will not ASK members if they are homosexuals, so long as the member does not indicate by his own actions and words that he is homosexual. But even if what I just said is correct, DADT still creates a quasi right or expectation that homosexuals can serve, and thus leads to the irrationality I just described.

So, DADT is a mistake, as I’ve been saying since 1993. It’s a ridiculous and unsustainable compromise between two mutually exclusive positions. Ultimately one of two things will happen. Either full expressive rights will be allowed for homosexuals in the military, or DADT will be repealed and the military will go back to the old rule of excluding homosexuals, period.

Kristor replies:


Kristor continues:

DADT is gnostic nominalist deconstructionism carried into practice. As long as you don’t say what you are about, all is permitted, i.e., all is in fact permitted. Just don’t say so.

The thing imports a whole new layer of deceit into the already deeply compromised predicament of military men, so acutely catalogued by Joseph Heller.

DADT is the apotheosis of the characteristic liberal lie about what is really going on. “I’m gay, but I’m not saying so; we both know perfectly well that I’m gay, but so long as we don’t memorialize the fact in some text or other, we can both keep pretending that I’m not gay.” Under DADT, the homosexual soldier is saying, in effect, “I am lying about what it is to be a soldier, and I am lying about who I am.” In a sense, the urge to bust out of this patently evil, doubly evil subterfuge is what lies behind the notion that gays in the military ought to be allowed to be froward about their sexuality. The urge to bust out of the double evil of DADT is healthy. It is a sign of moral integrity, even among gays. Therein lies its suasive power. Gays who object to this idiocy demonstrate their moral integrity.

LA replies:

Please tell us what you mean by your Heller reference.

LA continues:

I’m not sure what you mean by “gnostic nominalist deconstructionism.” I’m not saying you don’t have a clear idea in mind, but the thought occurred to me that you’re crowding all those high-fallutin’ words together to suggest impressionistically that “Don’t ask, don’t tell” is an impenetrable metaphysical muddle.

And it is. Here is the law under DADT as I understand it: “Homosexuals are barred from military service. However, we will not examine or question individual members to determine if they are homosexual. Meaning, we will not enforce our own rule against homosexual service members so long as a given member does not do or say anything to make it clear that he is homosexual. But if he does reveal that he is homosexual, then we will enforce the rule against homosexuality and remove him from the service.”

The rule against homosexuality in the services remains. But because it is not enforced against members who remain discrete, homosexuals get the message that homosexuals ARE permitted in the armed services. And because they feel that they ARE permitted in the services, the next step is to conclude that it is terribly unfair to allow homosexuals in the services but require that they keep their sexual orientation secret. Which is where we are now.

LA continues:

I don’t think it’s nominalist, but the converse of nominalism.

Nominalism means that we name something, but we believe that that the name doesn’t point to any essence.

With DADT, we DON’T name something, even though we believe that it DOES have an essence!

April 17, 1:00 a.m.

Kristor replies to LA:

No single one of those words is necessary, but what strikes me about DADT, now that I am thinking about it for the first time in my life, is that it exemplifies all three tendencies:

  • It is gnostic because it is an attempt to undermine the order of things by making it possible for homosexuals to serve. It is an argument on the one hand that, never mind the strongly voiced opinions of thousands of knuckle-dragging veteran officers, there is in fact no real problem with homosexuals in the service, and on the other that since this is so, there is no problem if gay soldiers effectually lie to the Army about their homosexuality. It is, i.e., an argument that neither homosexuality nor deceit are problematic, whether in the Army or more generally.

  • It is nominalist because it presupposes that our naming of things is dispositive of their nature, and therefore of their facticity; so long as I don’t name the fact that I’m gay, the Army will pretend with me that there is no such fact. Note that this has the side effect of telling straight soldiers that so far as the Army is concerned, there is no facticity to their heterosexuality, either. By eliminating the categorical boundary between straight and gay, DADT eliminates both categories.

  • Finally, DADT is deconstructionist because it is an explicit codification in law of the deconstructionist argument that all human gestures are per se instruments of social power, and therefore of oppression. It is a recognition that the speech gesture by which a soldier enters the fact of his homosexuality in the public record of history triggers an oppressive reaction by the Army. Under the deconstructionist analysis of society, it is not the fact of the soldier’s homosexuality that has causal cash value, but only the fact of his utterance. By the same token, the fact of the gay soldier’s silence—silence, too, being of course a gesture—represents implicitly his obeisance to the oppressive order of the Army.

Many PC policies manifest one or two of these tendencies, but only rarely do they manifest all three. Allowing women to serve in combat or in forward operating units, or on board naval vessels, is gnostic, but it is neither nominalist nor deconstructionist. Frisking 90 year old Scandinavian grannies at airport security is nominalist, but not gnostic or deconstructionist. DADT is the perfect storm of PC. That’s why I used all three terms.

Kristor writes:

You wrote:

I don’t think it’s nominalist, but the converse of nominalism.

Nominalism means that we name something, but we believe that the name doesn’t point to any essence.

With DADT, we DON’T name something, even though we believe that it DOES have an essence!

LOL! Yeah, this is true, too. But this is what must always happen when one carries nominalism into practice. The nominalist has to litter his speech with scare quotes. The gay soldier has to say, in effect, “I am ‘straight’.” There would be no point in thus lying if there were no objective essences out there to lie about. If there were no objective essences—if, i.e., nominalism were not false—it would not be possible to lie, because there would be nothing to lie about. So, nominalism cannot be carried into practice at all except by presupposing its own falsehood, so that the scare quotes the nominalist relies upon to communicate with anyone can gain traction. If nominalism were true, the scare quotes would be as meaningless as the terms they enclosed.

One of Jerry Seinfeld’s great contributions to humor was to point out that person X or Y was gay, and say, “Not that there’s anything wrong with that.” When, of course, the whole point of indicating the gayness of person X or Y in the first place was to indicate the problematic aspects of that gayness. Absent any such problematic aspects of gayness, there would be no profit in noticing gayness or straightness, and no one would notice it at all. But the reality is, of course, that everyone always does, precisely because sex matters deeply. The humor of Seinfeld’s joke lay in the fact that PC men who support the homosexualist enterprise are saying, in effect, “I find homosexuality revolting, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it.” It’s a perfect send up of nominalism. Like this: “Marriage is just a social convention, but I’ll kill you if you sleep with my wife.”

Buck O. writes:

I’ve long thought that the terms “gay” and homosexual are used incorrectly. They are not, in my opinion, interchangeable—and the DADT policy reflects that understanding, though it is not articulated as such.

Six or so years ago I found myself in a conversation with a high school age neighbor’s son and his parents. He was one year younger than my son at the same school. This young man was very active in a school-sanctioned gay pride club, though it’s not clear, even today, that he is a homosexual. He was proud to identify with those that were gay.

I was invited to dinner at his home—across the street from mine. A gay pride activity took place at the school that day. It came up. I was asked for my view—whether or not I was supportive of the club’s agenda.

I explained that in my opinion, one is or becomes a homosexual not by choice—for who would chose to be a homosexual? Being “gay” is a choice. A homosexual declares himself gay—he doesn’t become gay except by his choice. I suggested that defining oneself as gay is an advocacy position, a political decision, and a life style choice. A person that realizes that he is a homosexual is not making a choice. The choice is what he decides to do about it.

If homosexual men are to remain in the military, they can be good soldiers, Marines, sailors or airmen, if they chose to remain private and inactive, so to speak, but not if they declare themselves gay. It is the concept of “gay” that is alien and destructive to good military order and to a healthy culture.

LA replies:

That’s a good point. Certainly “gay” connotes approval of homosexuality and of the homosexualist agenda, while “homosexual” is a neutral, descriptive word. This is why I avoid using the word “gay,” and speak only of homosexuals and homosexuality.

It is discouraging how few conservatives understand this. For example, Maggie Gallagher, a leading opponent of homosexual “marriage,” consistently refers to it as “gay marriage.” In the very act of opposing the homosexualist agenda, she is using its lingo which implies approval of it. This shows how conservatives live inside the liberal culture and his presuppositions.

I’ve written to her on this point once or twice, pointing out the self-contradictory and self-defeating quality of opposing “gay” marriage, but she didn’t reply.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at April 16, 2010 11:09 AM | Send

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