October 21, 2005

Bad metaphor of the day.

Maggie Gallagher is guest-blogging at Volokh Conspiracy about same-sex marriage -- "SSM."
Imagine you stand in the middle of vast, hostile desert. A camel is your only means of transversing it, your lifeline to the future. The camel is burdened-- stumbling, loaded down, tired; enfeebled-- the conditions of the modern life are clearly not favorable to it. But still it’s your only hope, because to get across that desert you need a camel.

Now, chop off its legs and order it to carry you to safety.

That’s what SSM looks like, to me.

Man, that would work as comedy writing for "The Colbert Report"!


Sally said...

How ridiculous. And as a recent suburbanite, I can hardly wait until SSM is legalized. Perhaps then I will be invited to an interesting dinner party.

Art said...

Funny. A camel, and the desert also figure in one of the classic dirty jokes. The punch line is, "It's your turn in the barrell."

And it relates to same sex marriage.

Bennett said...

lol allicent.

I think Gallagher was coming undone at the end of her series of guest blogs - you could read, and feel, the building hysteria. As the wheels began coming off the wagon, she resorted to reducing her own argument until it was all screwy/cosmic metaphors, e.g this one.

oh, and the need for babies. which i'm not gonna touch.

Undercover Christian said...

I can hardly wait until SSM is legalized. Perhaps then I will be invited to an interesting dinner party.

Because gays are inherently more interesting than straights...? Or am I missing your meaning?

Anonymous said...

If a word means everything, then it means nothing. Stretching words like "marriage" and "family" to include all sorts of things that they never meant before is reducing these words -- and the institutions they represent -- to nothing. Thomas Sowell

Dave said...

What the hell is she talking about?

Do you think Volokh et al let her guest blog as some sort of cruel joke, to show the irrational fervor with which Gallagher practices her homophobia?

ShadyCharacter said...

That's right dave, to oppose SSM is to be a homophobe.

Now all we need is to pass some thoughtcrime legislation like they're attempting in Canada and Britain and we can throw the lady in jail!

It could be a funny Colbert Report spot...

Dave said...

Who said "to oppose SSM is to be a homophobe"?

I only said that Gallagher is a homophobe. There certainly can be non-homophobic people who oppose gay marriage.

Your implicit accusation doesn't stand.

Bennett said...

Aw, shady, making someone who calls Margaret Gallagher a bigot out to be a totalitarian is like calling a Harriet Miers critic a misogynist.

Who's the one trying to stifle dissent?

Ann Althouse said...

Whit: We're not writing a dictionary. We're deciding who gets to take advantage of legal rights.

Bennett said...

I don't know Ann, ever since the printing press was invented civilization has been so unsure of what it means to "write".

Sally said...


Don't worry, I do think straight people can be interesting as well ;) But whenever a neighborhood is strangely heterogeneous, (the New York suburbs can be pretty Stepford Wives) interesting dinner parties tend not to abound.

Anonymous said...

Having not read the Gallagher thread, I would interpret the Camel metaphor as: Society depends on traditional marriages to maintain cohesiveness. To undermine that institution is to undermine society.

SippicanCottage said...

I don't know about all that, but the word is "traverse" not "transverse." Geez. College gradjiates.

The first joke I ever wrote was about camels:
One camel looks at another camel and says:
"I don't care what anyone says, I'm thirsty."

Ann Althouse said...

would interpret the Camel metaphor as: Society depends on traditional marriages to maintain cohesiveness. To undermine that institution is to undermine society.

Because the camel really says all that.

Ann Althouse said...

Sippican: That's an adorable joke!

Anonymous said...

"Because the camel really says all that."

Yes, but the Arabic doesn't translate very well.

ShadyCharacter said...

You called Maggie a homophobe for arguing against SSM. If you need the cite, it was where you wrote: "... the irrational fervor with which Gallagher practices her homophobia." Maybe you weren't calling her a homophobe because she was arguing against SSM, but given the context of this post, I don't know what else you'd be basing it on.

this is in response to you as well. Is Maggie well known as a bigot of some sort? I sincerely doubt that Eugene would give a bigot a podium on his website, and nothing in her posts therein could be considered bigoted (unless, of course, to be opposed to SSM is ipso facto bigotry - and thus my reference to "thoughtcrimes" in my response to Dave). I'm willing to be convinced. Show me some evidence that Maggie is a hate-filled bigot. If you can't, or can't offer any more than that she disagrees with you on a socially divisive hot-button issue (and does so siding with upwards of 60% of the American public), I'll say good day. I said good day!


your flip response to Whit is somewhat uncharacteristic. If it's unclear, I don't think Whit is arguing that a revision of the Webster's entry on "marriage" is a problem. The whole "We're deciding who gets to take advantage of legal rights" is not exactly an answer to Whit's point. That is indeed the framework of the debate, but... so? He made a cogent argument against SSM, which you apparently don't feel is persuasive, but it's out there and needs to be addressed by those who want to change a timeless social institution to reflect the whims of a cultural moment in time.

I see an update: The camel might be an idiot to say "all that," but I think it's clear that the camel does indeed say it in the context of maggie's entire post.

That being said, it's your blog and you can do as you wish, especially in your "comments persona".

Unknown said...

She has a point. Same-sex marriage has been legalized in Massachusetts.

And now society is crumbling there. Polygamy is rampant. People are marrying their dogs. Civilization is coming to an end.

And, of course, there are legless camels all over the place.

ShadyCharacter said...

uh oh, DTL is in da house. I'm going to go comment on the prison thread :)

Jonathan said...

It's a poor metaphor and Gallagher might write more clearly. However, she appears to be making a straightforward slippery-slope argument. She justifies it as an empirical question:

I have most of human history on my side. You have your personal moral conviction that only hate explains why people object.

I don't see what's wrong with her argument. IMO the main questions are 1) does history really support her position and 2) if there's a lot of uncertainty about the answer to question 1, is it worth the risk to allow SSM as an experiment?

These are empirical questions and a lot of people, me included, are skeptical that the risk of running such an experiment is justified.

Dave said...


Volokh is known for his First Amendment research/scholarship, which would suggest that, yes, he would five the floor to a known bigot, in order, in part, to demonstrate the importance of free speech.

Dave said...

give the floor, that is.

ShadyCharacter said...


It's true that Eugene is a stand-up guy on first amendment issues, but he has frequently written about the fact that the 1A does not apply to private actors (particularly in the context of private universities) and I doubt he'd see a reason to provide a forum for bigotry. I've never seen him do so in the past and I see no reason to believe he has done so in this instance. The burden to show that he has done so is on those claiming he has!

I repeat my request - give me some evidence, or even an argument, that Maggie Gallagher is some kind of bigot. If nothing else, we shouldn't throw that label around so indiscriminately that it loses its force to shame and marginalize true bigots! I believe that homophobia and anti-gay bigotry are real problems in our society but what cause does it advance to ascribe these motivations with such imprecision and such frequency that we end up with a perfect "boy who cried wolf" situation? With the goal-post shifting that goes on with these issues (your true blue liberal democrat from 1980 transported to today would be considered a troglodyte on gay issues) it sure seems like the only "acceptable" position on these issues is the most extreme position du jour.

Plus, it's quite a slander if it's not true. Even opponents of SSM are human and it's not nice to call names.

APF said...

It's a poor metaphor, but I assume the point she's trying to make is that by constantly redefining what marriage means, you are slowly chipping away at its utility as a social institution for everyone. It seems to me that that is a fundamental conservative critique of any change or progress, and that those concerns need to be reflected against the necessity of ensuring fundamental liberties and equalities for all citizens, irrespective of sexuality, divergent racial/ethnic backgrounds, etc. I appreciate the idea that perhaps how freely couples can divorce in modern times has eroded the strength of marriage as an institution, but the question immediately follows whether that is an inherently the domain of the legal/governmental system, or is it the domain of a social system which has failed to adapt to modernity?

Dave said...

Bigots are intolerant. Gallagher does not tolerate gays.

Ergo, bigotry.

A more expanded version: Gallagher's entire schtick is based without warrant on the idea that marriage cannot sustain the assault of gays marrying one another.

This is a rather intolerant view of the desire that some gays have to marry. Gallagher has repeatedly tried to offer demonstrative proof that marriage will, prima facie, cease to be if gays are allowed to marry. But in the absence of any empirical evidence (because gay marriage is illegal pretty much everywhere) her arguments make no sense.

To call her tolerant on the subject of gays is to call into question the meaning of that word. What are we to infer other than she is intolerant?

The argument seems rather straightforward here: Gallagher is intolerant and bigoted.

Bennett said...


Now all we need is to pass some thoughtcrime legislation like they're attempting in Canada and Britain and we can throw the lady in jail!

Along with the slippery-slope argument and the procreation argument, the fear of people being ostracized or jailed for expressing anti-gay sentiment is a concern that comes up in the litany of anti-SSM arguments.

Now maybe you were being tongue-in-cheek, but you're tarring a reasonable argument with a pretty black brush (and then accusing others of doing just that to Gallagher). I'm no fan of P.C., but this kind of alarmism is out of place, out of proportion, and shrilly draws attention to the lack of any more rational argument.

The template for arguing against SSM seems to be: when you're losing on all the focused, rationally-based lines of argument, switch to a broad brush and start hollering about the sky falling.

This, to me, is the technique that Gallagher so imperfectly employed with her camel metaphor. She seems to imply that people want to do to marriage what Grover Norquist wants to do to the federal government: mortally cripple it.

give me some evidence, or even an argument, that Maggie Gallagher is some kind of bigot.

I've heard about Gallagher's homophobia but don't really know her background. But having witnessed her dramatic retreat from seemingly rational arguments into emotion and hyperbole was to realize that the rational thing was a front. You can almost hear her stammering as she is left with the one thing she probably started this debate with: her beliefs.

So her argument is driven not, evidently, by logical cohesion, but by faith in the superiority of heterosexual relationships. And that's not a problem in itself. But faith doesn't yield an answer - it presumes one. And when faith provides the basis for shunning A and embracing B, the difference between bigotry and faith is purely in the eye of the beholder.

ShadyCharacter said...


Are you kidding me!? Your response to my request for evidence that Maggie is a bigot based on something other than her mere opposition to SSM is that Maggie is self-evidently a bigot because she's opposed to SSM?

Do you even comprehend how lame and ridiculous your response is? I'm guessing not. You feel you have the moral high ground in that you support "rights" and any argument against "rights" is clearly "bad" and motivated by "hate."

Bigots are intolerant. Dave is intolerant of opponents of SSM. Ergo Dave is a bigot.

Aren't you the same Dave who dinged me on my on "rhetoric" skills yesterday?

You write: "Gallagher's entire schtick is based without warrant on the idea that marriage cannot sustain the assault of gays marrying one another." Actually, based on Gallagher's series of posts on Volokh.com, her entire "schtick" is to provide the "warrant" for the idea that SSM poses a danger to marriage.

You conlcude:"The argument seems rather straightforward here: Gallagher is intolerant and bigoted."

That's not an argument. That's invective. An argument is where you argue (i.e. give fact or reason base "arguments" in favor of your point), not where you assert.

Do you want to try again, or is it established that you are simply name-calling? If we're just name-calling, you're a booger.

ShadyCharacter said...

anselm writes:
"the fear of people being ostracized or jailed for expressing anti-gay sentiment is a concern that comes up in the litany of anti-SSM arguments."

Well, one reason the argument keeps being raised is that it's a reasonable argument!

I won't accuse you of myopically only following US news. Well, I will. You are myopically only following US news!

Take a look at Canada where pending legislation could make reading from the bible from the pulpit a hate "crime" - The following article has links to multiple articles on this issue: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2004/117/42.0.html

There's a very good chance that Britain will soon pass a law outlawing speech that "incites religious hatred." http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4719118 "In Britain, Prime Minister Tony Blair's Labour government has pledged to protect religious groups with a new law banning incitement to religious hatred in the wake of Sept. 11 and at the urging of Muslim groups. But civil libertarians and artists are fighting the law because they are concerned it will limit free speech -- in particular, their right to criticize and lampoon religion."

If you can't comprehend fears of how the marginalization of an elite-condemned opinion (such as opposition to SSM) can potentially lead to the legislative closing of debate and even criminalization of wrongthink, you need to read you some 1984!

Unknown said...

I sincerely doubt that Eugene would give a bigot a podium on his website - Shadycharacter

Oh Really? Then how do you explain this post?


Volokh has had Clayton Cramer, a noted homophobe, post quite frequently and he often links to his blog.

Bennett said...

Sure, but is it a reason to refuse to recognize SSM, or is it a reason to vigorously protect speech? I would not support the Canadian law, but we'll cross that bridge when we come to it. Just like we'll cross the polygamy & bestiality bridges when we come to them.

The possiblity of reasonable discussion requires perspective, rather than the casting of one issue on all-or-nothing manichaean terms. Those larger-than-life aspersions being cast on pro-SSM perspectives , byt the way, signal to me a willingness to play on people's capacity for fear and hysteria...and bigotry.

Unknown said...

And of course Maggie Galagher is an anti-gay bigot.

I mean - does anyone seriously think she's pro-gay???????

And if that makes me bigoted against anti-gay bigots, then I plead guilty to that.

Maggie is perfectly free to have her bigoted views. The vast majority of this country happens to agree with her.

So yes, I'm implying that the vast majority of Americans are anti-gay bigots. Any gay person can tell you that. It happens to include my own family as well. They've made it quite clear that they don't want to ever meet a partner of mine or hear anything about my personal life. That's rather bigoted, no? And it's also rather common.

Oh well - it's not the end of the world. Gay people have to find their way in a very unfriendly world (although thankfully it's getting much better every year).

So gay people essentially live in a world where they are discriminated on a daily basis because they are gay. Where people treat them with less respect. Where they can get fired from their job. Where states pass amendments to make them second class citizens. And on and on and on.

Geez - Don't we at least have the pleasure of getting to call them bigots in return. That's not asking for much, now is it?

Henry said...

Allicent -- please elaborate!

As someone else pointed out, the comments to Gallagher's post on Volokh are absolutely ruthless. (I wonder if Eugene Volokh gave her the forum, but only on the condition that comments stay on ;).

For a pretty decent review of all sorts of arguments, without the hyperbole, do a search for gay marraige at Reason magazine (reason.com). Or, do a search on Maggie Gallagher and you'll find her not only against SSM, but also against women working outside the home. Perhaps, if cornered, she could invoke the Henry Higgins defense -- she doesn't hate gays, she hates everybody.

Jonathan said...

Dave wrote:
A more expanded version: Gallagher's entire schtick is based without warrant on the idea that marriage cannot sustain the assault of gays marrying one another.

Whether marriage can "sustain the assault of gays marrying one another" is an empirical question, isn't it? I hold no brief for Gallagher, but it seems to me that a lot of the opposition to SSM comes from people who are concerned that legalizing SSM will weaken families and make it more difficult to raise children. That's my concern, anyway.

This is a rather intolerant view of the desire that some gays have to marry. . .

Whatever Gallagher's (or yours or my) personal motives, her hypothesis about SSM succeeds or fails on its own merits. Might it not be wise to make a serious effort to determine if that hypothesis is valid?

SippicanCottage said...

Ann wrote:

"We're not writing a dictionary. We're deciding who gets to take advantage of legal rights."

He who writes the dictionary gets to decide legal rights.

The words - euphemisms mostly - homophobe, bigot, racist, intolerant, have ceased to have real any meaning at all, other than as epithets some hurl at those that disagree with them. The language is skewed and bent to attempt to label as "evil" anyone that wishes any discourse on the subject.

This is a doozy:

"Bigots are intolerant. Gallagher does not tolerate gays.
Ergo, bigotry."

This is chasing your tail. How's this:

You are intolerant of Gallagher's intolerance of gays. Ergo, bigotry.

There was a status quo. If you wish to change the status quo, you should propose why it should be changed. Calling everyone an epithet, and saying that "intolerance" is any opinion that deviates from your opinion and is prima facie evidence of evil, is contemptible.

You can perhaps cow some from speaking, but you will never change anybody's mind by calling them evil jerks.

I wish I had another camel joke.

Jonathan said...


Maybe you need to find a different suburb.

vbspurs said...

Sippican wrote:

I wish I had another camel joke.

I wish I had one too.

OTOH, I recently learnt what a camel toe was.

And if you don't know, I ain't tellin'.


SippicanCottage said...

Baby camel says to mother:
"Why do we have humps?"
"Why, to store our water to cross the desert, dear."

"Mom, why do we have feet so big and flat?"
"To help us walk through the sand without sinking"

"Mom, are our tongues so rough?
So we can eat the thistles and brambles in the desert."

"Mom, why do we live in a zoo?"

Troy said...

What's the big deal? The camel metaphor is not that difficult to comprehend. Marriage is the vessel that takes civilization forward. Marriage is under attack by our culture at large. SSM, in Maggie's view, is anbother crippling blow to that vessel.

Lighten up. She's writing English -- not Elvish.

No major civilization has ever had SSSm as far as I know off the top of my head so why should we flippantly make a huge change to a fundamental institution without weighing the possible consequences? The fact that many don't even want to engage in a conversation speaks volumes.

Ann... They already have access to the right to marry. SSM advocates want to alter the definition of the word and hence the institution -- plain and simple. We have civil unions in CA -- not enough -- it's marriage or nothing. It's not about estate laws, health care, retirement benefits, or parenting.... All those things can be done under exisitng laws. It's about the institution.

That may or may not be fine with me. I'm still sorting it out. It'd be nice to have reasoned discussion without being slandered, flamed, and debated in bad faith by folks who refuse to read plain English. Gallagher writes very clearly her objections to SSM. Accept or reject them, but people are being obtuse -- and I thibk it's purposeful

Sally said...


Thanks for the link. I am already planning my escape from Stepford Suburban Hell, so this may come in handy. Perhaps I am being niave in thinking that gay neighbors who are also fond of Martha Stewart as I am, will spice up any neighborhood. All I do know is that I would like to escape a world where all women have the same size bottoms because they go to the same pilates teacher. I want a little variety in my hood.

in_the_middle said...

wanna talk about canada? spain? nah, not major enough for you.

here's a question: is maggie gallagher in favor of civil unions? if it's all about the word for you, then why is she or anyone else not only fighting against gay marriage, but "the incidents thereof" (civil unions, domestic partnership laws, domestic partner benefits at private companies, etc.)?

Troy said...

Spain? Canada? I'm talking historical perspective -- you know Classical Greece, Republican Rome.. Imperial Rome, China, etc. Canada and Spain were part of that little thing called Western Civilization last time I checked.

Even then -- the jury is stil out. The kind of damage Gallagher is worried about takes years to manifest itself. We will be dead when the results are known. Some don't care about that it seems. They're all for Farragut's maxim -- Damn the torpedoes....

My main point is we better see if there are any torpedoes and how big those torpedoes are before we turn the ship of state.

It is all about the word because words have meaning. Derrida is dead -- words have actual meaning in the real world. If it's not that big a deal then why... all else being equal -- meaning you can get ALL the benefits of marriage in myriad other legal means -- do you want the word?

Marriage has meant basically the same thing for 5,000 years in the overwhelming majority of civilizations major and minor. If it's going to be changed - then the burden is on those wanting the change.

"It's not fair." "It's time." "You're a homophobe." "You're a breeder." are not reasons.

Since gays have the freedom to pursue meaningful relationships and legally cement them AND gays can actually marry in any state -- what is the benefit to society -- long term -- in changing a core institution -- one that is designed to protect families and the propagation of children -- a fundamental interest in any population. If it's even a possibility that the long term negative affects are there, then what benefit balances that? Why are pro-gay marriage advocates afraid to talk about that?

Want to parent? You can adopt in many places or have in vitro or surrogate parenting or some guy on Volokh Conspiracy was talking about some doo-dad that would allow SSM to have their own children (don't know about that one).

Want to leave all your possessions to your partner -- then make a will or a trust.

Want your partner in the room when medical decisions are made? Make out an AMD and/or health care power of attorney and have that person as your decion-maker.

Make him/her your primary beneficiary on your retirement and insurance.

If he leaves you hire an attorney and sue the shit out of him for palimony or alimony -- especially if you put him through school or stayed at home with the kids or at home period. etc. etc.

Why do you need the word? Civil unions do all that marriage is designed to do.

Even if I lose the debate -- and I'm sure I will eventually, I would prefer the states do it and not a court or the feds.

I'm not accusing you "in the middle" of calling me the names above -- those are beauties I've heard and read elsewhere.

Troy said...

Ann... it reads like I'm calling you obtuse above and that part wasn't addressed to you.

How about Podcast comments so we can get some voice inflection and smiles in here?

BeyonceKnowsBest said...

"Why do you need the word? Civil unions do all that marriage is designed to do."

This is completely false. Civil unions, or some form of legal structure for same-sex relationships, exist in 2 states, and in a handful of municipalities. That means, Troy, that 99.99999% of legal incidents at the state, and 100% of the federal programs that exist for families are closed to families of same-sex couples.

This includes, as a baseline, the example of the binational couple. Everyone knows that if an American citizen marries someone from another country, the non-citizen gets a green card by having the citizen-spouse sponsor them. So what is an American citizen to do in order to make a life with their same-sex partner from another country? Or is it just too damn selfish of the gay citizen to demand falling in love with a foreigner? That's only for straight people.

Ampersand said...

On the one hand, I don't think it really matters whether Maggie's a bigot. Her arguments are good or bad arguments, regardless of what's in her heart. Elizabeth Marquait, who blogs at familyscholars.org, makes essentially the same anti-SSM arguments, but genuinely doesn't seem to bear any animus towards lesbians and gays. (At least, not as far as I can tell).

At the same time, I think a little less hysteria from anti-SSM folks over the word "bigot" would be nice. Nearly all of us have some bigotry in us (me included); the question and significance of bigotry shouldn't be forbidden from reasonable discussion just because many anti-SSM folks cannot stand the word being spoken.

knox said...


Unknown said...

Good point Ampersand.

Here's a deal. When they stop passing amendments that make gays second class citizens, we'll stop calling them bigots.

amba said...

I haven't read all these comments so I don't know if anyone else has pointed out that "SSM" is obviously supposed to invoke seamy echoes of "S & M".